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Polk Middle students report on local environmental issues for competition

Students in Jeanne Ferran’s eighth grade English Language Arts class at Polk County Middle School have recently been developing stories relating to animal and environmental issues in the area

Students in Jeanne Ferran’s eighth grade English Language Arts class at Polk County Middle School have recently been developing stories relating to animal and environmental issues in the area.

The project is being done as part of the National Wildlife Federation Young Reporters for the Environment competition. Students investigate an environmental issue and report on it using journalistic techniques in either writing, photography or video as part of the competition.

Presented below are the text and video submissions from each group of students:

I’m Yelling Timber (How to Log Sustainably)

By Lacey Gosnell, McKenna Hill and Ashlyn Ramsey

White-Nose Syndrome: You BATter Believe it

Phoenix Roush exploring an example of a bat habitat near Tryon, North Carolina.

By Phoenix Roush

Imagine stepping into a deep cavern and being enveloped in darkness. Spires of rock hang from the ceiling and erect from the rocky floor. A soft squeak surrounds you and you spot the glowing eyes of a bat. Now imagine this you step into the same cave but instead your feet are surrounded by the bodies of bats whose faces are covered in a rancid white fungus. As as a result of a disease commonly known as white- nose syndrome this is the sad reality of many caves worldwide.

Why are Bats Important?
According to a North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission bats are important to the environment for a variety of reasons. First, they are excellent pollinators. Over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers! They aid in producing all types of food such as, mango, banana, cocoa, durian, guava and agave.

While most of us think bats are pests, some bats are actually pest controllers! Bats can eat twice their own body weight in insects a night. This is extremely helpful for farmers because bats can help to keep bugs away from crops. A 2010 study found that the value of bats’ pest-control services in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.

Finally, bats play an important role in spreading the seeds of plants. Some fruit bats carry seeds inside them as they digest the fruit, then excrete the seeds far away from the original tree. These seeds drop to the ground in their own fertiliser this then helps trees germinate and grow.

What is White-Nose Syndrome?
White-nose Syndrome is a fungal disease that affects hibernating bats. This disease is the result of a fungus called “Pseudogymnoascus destructans” that invades and ingests the skin of hibernating bats. It causes bats to wake up more frequently during the winter resulting in overuse of their limited fat reserves. White-nose Syndrome may also cause destruction of wing tissue, which leads to disruption of bats’ water and electrolyte balance. Dead or dying bats are frequently observed with a white fuzz around their muzzles. This is where the name “white-nose syndrome” comes from. According to National Geographic, an estimated 5.7 million bats have died due to White-nose Syndrome since the disease was discovered in 2006.

Could some bat species really go extinct?
Sadly the answer is yes. The northern long-eared bat is the hardest hit of all bat species affected. Its population has declined at rates of 99 percent or greater in several eastern states. The northern long-eared bat,the eastern small-footed and many more bat species bat have been listed on the federal endangered species list. A 2013 study by federal scientists found that “Indiana bats are likely to disappear from the majority of their range within a decade.” The little brown bat, once one of the most common bats in North America, is now extremely rare in the Northeast, and continues to die in the Midwest.

How is this issue affecting North Carolina and most importantly the world as a whole?
Bats play a very important role in many environments. Certain plants may depend on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, while other bats also help control pests by eating insects. Here in western North Carolina, our bat population has been decimated by this syndrome. Tourist attractions such as Linville Caverns here in Western North Carolina have started taking precautions when you visit caves. Bat Cave, which is located just 20 miles from Asheville, has stopped tours altogether. At Linville, you have to step on a soapy mat with disinfectant before and after you visit the caverns just to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome on your shoes.

Do we have a solution to this devastating disease?
Michael McClure the Environmental Education Associate at Foothills Equestrian Nature Center near Tryon, North Carolina, states, “The best way we can prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome is by simply monitoring it.
In North Carolina, biologists are encouraged to do one of three things:
1) conduct a full hibernacula count: consists of going into the hibernaculum (the place where the bat roosts) to check for signs of white-nose syndrome and to count of each of the bats in there. Biologists then compare that data to data from the past to see if there has been a decline
2) conduct a rapid survey: enter hibernacula and check for the presence of fungus, of bats roosting in abnormal places.
3) conduct an entrance survey: basically just checking if bats are still roosting at previous known spots.

If evidence of white-nose syndrome is found, dead specimens can be sent to the NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh for further examination.

As of right now there is no definite cure but solutions are being developed. Luckily the fungus behind White-nose Syndrome might have a weak spot; UV light. A team of scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of New Hampshire found that the fungus is highly sensitive to UV light. Treating bats for the disease during hibernation is very challenging, so any weakness of the fungus is good news to managers. In a study published on January 2, 2018 in a journal titled “Extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light in the fungal pathogen causing white-nose syndrome of bats,” the research team suggests that it’s likely that this fungus evolved alongside bat species in Europe and Asia for millions of years.

In the course of comparing, the fungus sampled closely related to six non-pathogenic fungus. Researchers discovered that the fungus that causes bats to develop white nose syndrome is unable to repair the damage that is caused by UV light. Thanks to scientists all over the world we may be able to someday find a cure for these precious creatures.

You’ve Gotta Bee Kidding Me

By Coble Cameron and Gus Maass

If Bees were to disappear completely from our world, our grocery store shelves would look extremely different. Our dairy and produce aisles would be nearly deserted of all food, and there wouldn’t be a single full shelf in the store. From the mouth of honey bee expert David Smith, we discovered that “Without bees, competition for food would be imminent, and the variety of foods would be severely limited.” When you think of bees, you likely think something along the lines of “the killer insect with the stinger,” but in reality, bees are essential for our survival. But unfortunately, from varroa mites to pesticides, the global bee population is threatened by many different problems, both man-made and natural. The bottom line is that if we do not work to control our bee population, our grocery stores and food isles will never be the same. Honey bees are the key to having food for future generations.

Since 1945, the honeybee population has been on the decline. In this same time period, farmers across the country began using new pesticides, of which were said to be the solution to the nationwide plague of crop-destroying pesticides. However, these pesticides were not only pest killers, but also bee killers. The sad part is, the entire nation (even most bee experts) were oblivious of the situation for many years. Somehow, the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food Quality and Protection Act were all in favor of allowing the commercial use of some of these pesticides, and ignored the fact that if these pesticides are dangerous to bees, it can absolutely not be a good thing for them to be in our food supply.

As of now, there are 39 chemicals commonly used in crop pesticides that are considered to be highly toxic to bees. If we continue to use these pesticides globally, it could cause a worldwide extinction of bees, with only the most remote bee populations surviving.

Another threat to our bees is actually a pest, the Varroa Mite. This small insect causes major damage to bees by attaching itself to the bee or larvae and sucking out their fat bodies. One way we can help bees from this problem is by using drone broods. Drone broods are the larvae form of male drone bees, who do little work to help out the hive in the first place. Honey bee keepers can get rid of these mites by using miticides, but this will usually contaminate the honey produced by the bees. “Awareness is very important, and we need more of it.” A safer way to do this would be to move some of your drone larvae into the main part of the hive to attract varroa mites. Since varroa mites prefer drone blood, they will take these over the workers. Hives usually produce an excess of drones, so it should not be considered a loss for the hive. Once the mites have attached themselves to the drone larvae, simply move the larvae into a freezer. This will kill the mites without harming the rest of the hive. This is what many beekeepers in Polk County are doing, and is an effective solution no matter where you live.

Moving bees to a more hospitable area can provide them with the safety needed to supply us with the food we need. Things like tree nuts, fruit, corn, and similar crops are incredibly healthy for bees to pollinate. Some farmers are taking their bees to farms that grow some of the previously mentioned crops in order to keep their bees healthy, which can be a great solution for farmers everywhere. In the end, if we treat our bees well, they will treat us well.

There is still hope for the honeybee. Although more expensive, using natural methods of pest control instead of using pesticides may be one of our only options. Making a difference today even in your own county could help out worldwide for this problem. Already there are many bee experts and keepers here in North Carolina reaching out to save bees and relocating them into a more controlled environment. No matter how small of a contribution it may seem, you too can lend a hand in the process of protecting bees. A few ways you can help save the honeybee are keeping a nice garden of native plants with a lot of purple and blue coloring, monitoring pesticide usage, even steer clear of chemicals entirely, or buying foods pollinated by honey bees.

Friend or Foe

By Carley Lawter

Equines In Danger: Horse Abuse in Polk County

By Emma Bradley, Aliya Conner and Trinity Powell

When you see a horse, chances are you see a healthy, well-fed, happy horse. And that is fine. What you don’t see is the thin, malnourished, skittish horse covered in rain rot. But just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. No, horse abuse is very real and it is very much a problem.

Polk County, North Carolina is located in the heart of horse country. Horses are a big part of many people’s lives. And while some people do take good care of their horses, there are many who don’t.

There are many things that classify as abuse, but here in Polk County, the most common type is neglect. In an interview with Patti Lovelace and two other members of FERA (Foothills Equine Rescue Assistance), we were told that, “Neglect can take many forms. One such thing being not getting a dentist to come check out a horse’s teeth every so often. Once a year is the best.”

By not getting a horses teeth examined, irregularities can form. These can be uncomfortable and even painful for the horse. They can also lead to difficulties in chewing, which could then lead to starvation and malnourishment. Identifying a problem area and fixing it is one thing, but having a dead horse on your hands is another all together.

Neglect is one type of abuse, but some horses face another fate. The horse slaughter market is also present here in Polk County.

Equine re-sellers tend to get their horses from people on sites such as craigslist and ebay. They generally target people who can’t afford to care for the horse. Purchases are usually made over eBay. Transactions and payments take place at a previously agreed upon time and location. And while the owner sleeps soundly in his bed that night, after selling his horse, his precious little chestnut colt is loaded up onto a trailer and shipped on a week-long trip to Mexico- where he will then be tortured, tormented, beaten, and eventually eaten.

Is there even really a way to truly stop horse abuse once and for all? While there may not be a long term solution, there are certain steps you can take towards helping lower the number of yearly cases.

There are numerous local agencies that can help prevent abuse and neglect. If you suspect someone may be harming their horses, you can call Patti Lovelace, member of FERA (Foothills Equine Rescue Assistance) and head Animal Control Officer for the county. You can call her at (828) 817-3508 to report a suspected abuser or visit the FERA website online (info@ferafhs.org) for more information. She will gladly go investigate the property and make sure the horses are all in good health. If they aren’t within a healthy weight range for their size, or if the living conditions are less than suitable, a seizure warrant obtained from the county office.

FERA also has a program that you can sign up for. The program grants money to people who are not able to purchase food for their horses, because, a lot of times, that is the problem. Many people do not intentionally starve their horses; adequate feed can be costly.

Costly or not, if humans were being treated as some people are treating their horses around here, there would be a huge movement to stop it. We would not have people being intentionally starved to the brink of death. We would not have people being beaten within an inch of their lives. With human lives, people are moved to action. Animals deserve the same respect.

One such way we can show respect towards the horses of our county is to put a stop to the abuse. There are so many horses around here, and there are so many deep in the woods that no one may know about, save for the people who own them. And if they were to be neglected or mistreated, no one would know about it. Law enforcement could not get to them to put a stop to it.

Here in Polk County, we have several organizations and prominent people dedicated to stopping cruelty towards animals, specifically horses. We went to speak with the ladies of FERA (Foothills Equine Rescue Assistance) about our topic. They opened our eyes quite a bit and we learned a lot about just how many horses they see and the severity of some cases.

We learned about the lasting effects of some of the trauma that these poor creatures go through. We were taught about rain rot and maggots, and horses getting sores from standing in thick mud over two feet deep for weeks at a time. Discussing the issue with Patti Lovelace, Sara, and Elyse, we learned that, unfortunately, there is no long term solution. It is impossible to permanently end horse cruelty.

But if we raise awareness about this issue, if we spread the word about what is happening right under our very noses, then more people will know. More people will be able to help put a stop to it. There will be more eyes and ears in the area keeping an eye out and protecting our equine friends. With the help of the community and all of the people in it, we could put a stop to horse abuse in the county once and for all.

Poaching, Oh Deer!

By Jaiden Davis and Phoebe Burke

In small, rural Polk County, the amount of plant and animal life is exceedingly diverse. Many people in the community enjoy watching it thrive. Pleasant purple pansies can be found joyfully blooming at your doorstep, and the sweet scent of pristine hydrangea waft through the crisp air. Fuzzy honey bees buzz with the sound of 100 violins. This is just how amazing Polk County, North Carolina naturally is.

The residents of precious Polk County do not have to do more than look out their window to catch a glimpse of the lush wildlife surrounding them. However, some want this beauty to be in their own hands. In North Carolina, there are approximately 1,000,000 Whitetail Deer as of 2017. Sadly, deer poaching is a serious problem here in Polk County, and the counties surrounding. Not only does it affect the deer and their herd, but our environment and community. We don’t have the amount of deer poached annually, because the officers don’t always get recorded because they don’t know the number of deer they were trying to take, and the only numbers they have are the ones that got caught.

There are other animals that are poached, but deer are the main target in our community due to their abundance. Though poaching is common, the reasoning for these heinous acts vary. Some commit this crime just for their pride. They were dubbed ”trophy killers” by Wildlife Enforcement Officer Toby Jenkins. Having a big rack on your wall is of higher importance to some people than the actual meat that some law abiding hunters truly need. Poachers of this assortment typically dump the deer after slaughtering them, and removing the parts that are of interest.

Another form of poaching is hunting out of season, and this may cause more problems than trophy killers, as it can have double the damage. The seasons where you are not allowed to hunt are matting seasons. Therefore if you are hunting in that time period, you could be killing an unborn deer which is a serious crime. It harms their population, and makes it difficult for this species to thrive.

By now, you may be able to tell that poaching has very negative effects on deer, the community, and the ecosystem surrounding. Luckily, these crimes do not go unpunished. “Normally a fine, around $600 per deer. Other punishments include the poacher losing their hunting license for at least a year.” States Toby Jenkins, NC Wildlife Resource Officer.

Hunting is necessary due to the amount of deer that we naturally have here in Polk, as an over-inflated group could cause ecological issues. These animals are herbivores, and if too many are looking for food, there is a possibility they could find their way into someone’s garden and take advantage of their shrubs. Also, the amount of deer and car collisions would increase at a rapid rate. But hunting illegally must come to an end.

We asked for some solutions from classmates, teachers, and other community members. Here are a few of the suggestions. It was hypothesised that if we made the effects of poaching, and its consequences more well known, then less people will be tempted to do it. Another idea that was shared was that if we had harsher punishments, it will be less common. All in all, we have to work together as a community to fix this. Poaching of deer is an issue that needs to be solved one way or another. A solution to poaching would be to make the punishments more harsh. We could make poachers serve jail time for what they have done. Either that or we could make the fine larger. Another thing we could do is make the rules and regulations better known, by posting them in the State Forests and National Parks, on the trees or on informational billboards. We can post the rules and regulations in normal places as well, such as the grocery store, or on signs in front of neighborhoods. For example, my neighborhood has little plastic signs up that tell you there is no hunting permitted in the area. We also need to give less interest to people who shoot large deer. This way, trophy killers won’t have much of a motivation. Deer poaching can and will be stopped, we just need everyone to pitch in.

Ginseng Poaching

By Lindsey Jenkins, Katie Campuzano-Gomez and McKenna Splawn

Quit Horsin’ Around

By Anna Grace Gordon, Olivia Overholt and Nathalie Ramirez

Where do you see Polk County in 20 years? Do you see it as a peaceful, quiet town or a busy, highly populated town? Right now Polk County is changing very rapidly because of a new development in the area. This development is the Tryon International Equestrian Center, (TIEC). It’s a year round venue located in Tryon, North Carolina where they showcase top horses and riders. The problem with TIEC being in Polk County is that Polk County is a small, lowly populated area with regular, simple people, and now that TIEC has come, it has altered the cultural landscape.

For example, the areas near the Equestrian Center taxes have risen by over 300%. The positive side of it is that citizens who live around the area can sell their land for higher prices and get a lot of money. But then their land value goes up which raises their taxes. This is also good for the government because they are making more money because higher land value means more taxes for them.

Another concern the people of Polk County have about TIEC is the International Equestrian Games that they are hosting in 2018. The problem with the games is the amount of people it will bring into the county. In the short span of 2 weeks it will bring in 500,000-600,000 people. If you didn’t know Polk County’s background, this might not seem to be that big of a deal, but Polk County only has 20,500 people in it. The roads in the area, at most, are only 2-3 lanes, so this will definitely bring the county some major traffic issues. The traffic may be so serious, that it could potentially close the county’s public schools. It will also require 250 highway patrolman for the event, because Polk County’s policemen will obviously not be enough for an event of 500,000-600,000 people.

We interviewed the county commissioner Jake Johnson about his thoughts on TIEC. Jake said, “TIEC will bring lots of jobs for our generation and future generations “Good jobs for Polk County, it will be everything from seasonal work to full time employment opportunities…”. He also said “Our kids coming out of high school have a reason to come back here if they wanted to go get an education then come back here or go straight into the workforce at the Equestrian Center.”

We also interviewed Tryon Newsmedia Equestrian Journalist, Catherine Hunter on the subject and she had a lot to say about the issue. She said, “We need to preserve our beautiful countryside of Polk County, because without it wouldn’t be able to fox hunt, or coon hunt, or hike in our beautiful community. We don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs because that is what makes Polk County special.”.

There are multiple solutions to this problem. One solution would be, is going to Polk County Commision meeting and bring up the topic, that way you can confront our government on the subject directly. They will take you more seriously if you have the courage to do so. Another possible thing you could do is to organize a civilized and peaceful protest on the topic or get a petition going to help regulate the TIEC, that way if you present that to the government of the county and you have multiple signatures from the community the government will have to consider it. You can also contact your local Voluntary Agricultural District (VAD) or EVAD and get involved in their program. The VAD and EVAD is a program to help preserve farmland in NC and Polk County. So, whether you approve of the International Tryon Equestrian Center or not, it’s something that should be seriously considered when looking into Polk County’s future.

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