Sunday, December 13, 2015

DuBois column

This column reviews a weird year, with insect meat, toad roads, bobcat bridges and zoo pooh

Insect Meat

This is the season when one can reflect back on the happenings and issues that have occurred over the previous months.  As one who reports in issues affecting the West and especially livestock producers, I can definitely say this has been one weird year.

It started on January 4th, when I wrote about scientists in the Netherlands who published a study on their discovery that insects produce significantly less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat than cattle or pigs.  After critiquing the environmental costs of the current methods of producing meat, the learned professors at Wageningen University undertook studies of mealworms, house crickets, migratory locusts, sun beetles, and Dubia cockroaches.

They were the first ones, ever, in the whole wide world to quantify the amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) released per kilogram of insect meat.  Their findings were that the amounts of gases released by insects to be much smaller than those released by cattle and pigs. One example given was that mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than do pigs, leading the researchers to “advocate for replacing cattle with insects.”

I certainly couldn’t let this pass by so I decided to have a little fun and wrote the following:

Some university types and all the DC Deep Thinkers want ag producers to be early adopters and enter into the latest management and production techniques.

Let’s analyze what this would bring us if we established an insect ranch.

For one thing, we’d be way ahead on capital outlays and annual production costs:

° Instead of ropes all you need is a flyswatter

° You can brand with a toothpick

° Use thimbles for water tanks and popsicle sticks for fences

° You can trade your trailer for a matchbox, and

° Switch from bedeezers to tweezers

Like any new operation there will be challenges.  For instance, how do you preg test a Praying Mantis?

But there would be fun things too.  For instance, think of all the fun you’ll have marketing maggot meat.

I see one big drawback though:  instead of calf fries on the campfire you’ll be having grasshopper gonads on your cigarette lighter.

Wildlife Wackiness

While one group of numbskulls were promoting mealworm meatloaf, other entities were making extraordinary efforts at great expense to keep all kinds of critters alive.

You’ll recall the Toad Road, where in New Jersey they installed a series of five underground tunnels to help toads and other small animals get to the opposite side.  Wooden fencing surrounds each tunnel entrance and lines the roadway, making the tunnels the only way for the animals to cross the road.

Most recently, we have the California plan to protect bobcats and other wildlife by building “the nation’s largest wildlife overpass”, a 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long, landscaped bridge over the 101 Freeway.  It may be over a freeway, but it won’t be free.  The California Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority has released a study by Caltrans concluding the wildlife overpass was feasible with a projected cost of $33 million to $38 million.

Now we’ll have a Bobcat Bridge to go along with the Toad Road.  One on each coast.  They’ll make nice bookends for Obamaland.

Dinosaur Bones & Zoo Poo

The Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science recently completed a four-year project of excavating two ancient creatures known as Pentaceratops from the badlands of northwestern New Mexico.  Problem was the bones of the baby and adult dinosaur were located in the Bisti Wilderness, where no motorized vehicles or mechanized equipment is allowed.  “All the excavation we had to do by hand,” the Museum’s chief curator said. “We had to haul the plaster, the water, the tools, in by hand.”

An exception to this policy was allowed to remove the skeletal remains, as the NM National Guard showed up with their Blackhawk helicopters and lifted them out of the Wilderness to a place where vehicles were allowed.

This made me think of the time several years ago I was giving a presentation on Wilderness to a group when a member of the audience stood up and said he was employed by the local BLM and asked to speak.  Turns out he was the chief over the firefighters.  He told us of an incident where a firefighter had broken a leg in a Wilderness area.  They asked for a chopper to extract the injured.  Since the injury was not "life threatening" their request was denied and they had to carry him out by hand.

One can only conclude that, to the feds anyway, dead dinosaur bones are more important than live human ones.

Then we had this heart-breaking story out of Denver.  The Denver Zoo set out ten years ago to become “the greenest zoo in the country” and a zero-waste facility by 2025.  They were to accomplish this by developing a technique to transform elephant dung and other waste at the zoo into fuel pellets that would generate electricity through a gasification process. What a great idea!  The EPA and the National Renewable Energy Lab got involved.  The zoo showed off the potential of its pooh by powering a blender to make margaritas and, later, a motorized rickshaw that went on a promotional tour to zoos across the West.  The $4 million plant was nearing completion but the zoo was experiencing a problem with those pellets. “What we were still working on was pellet consistency,” a zoo official said. “How do you create a consistent pellet out of an inconsistent waste stream?”

That’s too bad because the zoo has hired a new CEO who has put together a new master plan and turning elephant dung into energy isn’t in it.
Who knew that elephant dung was so diverse?  It will make margaritas and run rickshaws but that's it?  

They were done in by the PCP...the pellet consistency problem.  Guess these dung dumbies just couldn't get their you know what together. 

Yup, it was a very weird year.

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Chistmas and a Very Prosperous New Year.

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.
Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner ( and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship

This column originally appeared in the New Mexico Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest.

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