Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Asian giant hornets go to school

Karla Salp

A student examines a hornet larva
While Asian giant hornet queens are still snuggled up for the winter, WSDA’s Pest Program has no time to rest. Winter/early spring is when our entomologists review the previous year’s results and make plans for the coming season.

From the start, an important part of WSDA’s approach to ridding the state of this invasive pest has been public education and involvement, which is what brought outreach specialist Cassie Cichorz to visit a third-grade class at Skyline Elementary in Ferndale last Tuesday.

With a wagon full of hornet memorabilia, Cassie has been visiting classrooms around Whatcom County, bringing the hornet to children class by class. Her impressive collection includes hornets in various life stages, combs from nests, a hornet suit she uses during nest eradication, posters, and – always popular with the students – Asian giant hornet temporary tattoos.

Students giving a thumbs-up for their favorite 
Asian giant hornet life stage

Winter is the perfect time for Cassie’s classroom visits – it is a break from our fieldwork that coincides nicely with school schedules – especially those in areas most likely to encounter the world’s largest hornet.  

Cassie Cichorz calls on a student in the back
of the class while displaying hornets
A former school teacher, Cassie has the skill to effectively engage with students and share her hornet knowledge with school children, teaching them how hornets live, what they eat, how they develop, and the threat they pose to local honey bees. Students also learn what to do if they think they see one: tell an adult who can get a picture and report it to WSDA.

Cassie spent half an hour with the class. While telling them about the hornets, she passed around vials containing hornets at various life stages. Some of the students displayed an impressive knowledge of insect development, naming all of the life insect stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

She also carried around a piece of comb from one of the nests that WSDA eradicated just a few miles from the school. The nest comb was “look but don’t touch” because of how delicate the paper comb is.

A student looks at pinned hornet specimens

Both students and staff were fascinated by the insects and most are excited about the opportunity to see them up close. One little girl was too excited to stay in her seat and kept sneaking up close to Cassie to better see the specimens she had even before they were passed around the room. And one staff member confessed that teachers who had already hosted Cassie in and her wagon of wonders in their rooms were sure to take a selfie with a hornet.

Cassie Cichorz lets students feel her hornet suit

While most students love the presentation, not everyone is so enthusiastic.

“Thanks, I’ll never sleep again,” one student said as Cassie packed up her wagon to head to the next classroom.

Schools in Whatcom County interested in the presentations can contact Cassie. She isn’t able to visit every school in the state, but there are many Asian giant hornet resources on our website, including math and science lesson plans appropriate for grades 6 – 10 from Scholastic. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

WSDA awards $4.1 million in grants for hunger relief efforts

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications 

Last fall, WSDA announced a new grant program to help expand hunger relief efforts statewide, opening the grants up to all eligible hunger relief organizations serving Washington communities whether or not they were previously contract with WSDA to distribute food assistance.

This month, the agency notified 91 organizations around Washington that they would be receiving funds through the Flexible Fund Grant Program. In all, WSDA awarded $4.1 million to these organizations. 

WSDA distributes millions of dollars annually through its Food Assistance programs. The program works by contracting with hunger relief organizations, Tribes, and tribal organizations in all 39 counties to deliver government-funded food assistance resources across the state. These include both state funds and federal funds as well as commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Food Assistance Flexible Funding grants program is funded through the state Legislature to build resiliency through grants and initiatives. In its inaugural year, eligible grants fell into three categories:

  • Making food distribution more efficient:  Improving food access through staff support, capacity improvements, and equipment purchasing.
  • Targeted community needs: Supporting organizations serving historically underrepresented communities and needs.
  • Innovations and food system improvements: Improving local food systems and/or supporting local agriculture and businesses.

Grants ranged from just under $1,000 to more than $200,000. Projects included culturally-relevant foods access, staffing, gleaning program expansion, warehouse equipment, facility renovations, and more. 

Visit agr.wa.gov/grants for more information about WSDA grant opportunities, including the second round of this grant program to launch Spring 2022 under a new name, the Resiliency Grants Program. 

The grant program contributes to WSDA’s ongoing Focus on Food Initiative, which focuses on strengthening Washington’s food system at the regional level and ensuring safe, nutritious food is effectively produced and distributed throughout our state.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Bird flu making its way through the U.S.

Dr. Dana Dobbs
WSDA avian health lead

If you want to protect your flock from avian influenza, now is the time to get serious about biosecurity.

What started last year with detections of avian influenza abroad, has now entered the United States via the Atlantic Flyway (north-south flyway for migratory birds in the Americas). The disease was first confirmed in wild waterfowl, specifically dabbling ducks, in North and South Carolina.

Last week, USDA has confirmed H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. This week detections were seen in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky and a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia.

State and federal officials, as well as the commercial poultry producers continue to react swiftly to contain the disease and establish a Control Area, or quarantine zone. The unified emergency response, epidemiological investigation, and surveillance efforts are in progress. 

During routine surveillance by USDA’s Wildlife Services officials detected “Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza” (LPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. These waterfowl can carry and spread the virus without appearing sick. While HPAI detections have not been made near Washington yet, it is time to get serious about biosecurity to protect your flock. 

The best way to prevent birds from becoming infected is to keep the virus from reaching your birds in the first place. That means learning the signs of infection and practicing good biosecurity. Signs of HPAI infection may include: nasal discharge and sneezing, sudden death (with or without clinical signs), decreased feed or water intake, swollen and or purple colored wattles, combs, and legs, decreased egg production, and more. While there are many elements to biosecurity, here are a few basics.

Limit contact with your birds

Do not allow visitors and animals to have access to your birds. People who work with your birds should not own or be around other birds.

Anyone that must interact with your birds should wear disposable boot covers, rubber boots, or have the ability to clean and disinfect their shoes before and after their visit. During periods of heightened disease risk, bring your birds inside or under cover if at all possible and limit contact with wild waterfowl and their droppings.

Keep it clean

Have dedicated shoes and clothing for handling your birds. In addition, scrub shoes with a scrub brush to remove droppings, mud, and debris before cleaning and disinfecting Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or apply a disinfectant, such as hand sanitizer, before entering your bird area. Disposable latex gloves are another valuable addition to your toolbox and can help prevent the spread of disease.

Don't bring disease home

If you visit a place that has birds or where bird owners may visit, like a feed store, clean and disinfect your vehicle and anything else that travelled with you. Shower and change clothes before visiting your flock.

Keep new birds separate from the flock for at least 30 days and only purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) approved sources. This also applies to any birds that have recently returned from fairs or exhibitions. They may have been exposed to disease while they were away and may look healthy at first.  

Don't share equipment, feed, or other items such as cages with other bird owners. If you must share equipment, ensure that it has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected first.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) program has a detailed checklist to enhance your flock’s biosecurity efforts, and other useful tips may be found at the Defend the Flock Resource Center. 

Please report any unusual or high rates of illness or death in your flocks to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056. Learn more at agr.wa.gov/birdflu 

Together, we can keep our birds safe and protected from avian influenza.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Report shines a light on benefits of state fairs

Megan Finkenbinder
WSDA Fairs Program Administrator 

Everyone loves a fair and a new report suggests they make good business sense, too. 

The report, Washington Agricultural Fairs: Economic and Social Impact, was released at the end of 2021 and found that agricultural fairs generate almost $400 million annually in business revenue. In addition, according to the report, fairs create thousands of jobs and open opportunities for the broader public to connect with Washington agriculture.

WSDA funded the study by Seattle-based Community Attributes Inc. (CAI) at the request of the Washington State Fairs Association. 

WSDA administers the Washington State Fairs Commission, an eight-member advisory committee that reports to the WSDA director and provides evaluations of fairs that help determine the amount of state funding provided to support fairs. 

For the report, researchers with CAI studied economic figures from 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. The data paints a picture of a robust fair scene before the pandemic struck, prompting most fairs to cancel in 2020. However, several were held in 2021. 

The researchers found that fairs across the state play an important role in their communities, providing local jobs, and bringing visitors who spend their dollars at the fair and in the surrounding community. The report also found that fairs are helping create a new generation of farmers, ranchers and food producers through the wide range of ag-related showings and exhibits, often involving youth. 

In 2019, 69 agricultural fairs were held across Washington, including 38 county or area fairs, 19 community fairs, and 12 youth shows. Pierce, Yakima, Snohomish, Stevens, Cowlitz, Whitman, Grant and Spokane counties hosted half of all these fairs. 

The researchers broke down fair activity for 2019 by the numbers:

  • More than 3.3 million people visited fairs.
  • 68,000 exhibitors participated, including many from out of state.
  • 5,600 volunteers helped staff fairs statewide.

In terms of economic impacts, fairs contributed millions to state coffers, and are significant job creators for their communities. In addition, many non-profit and charity-based organizations raise substantial portions of their annual budgets through fundraising booths and activities at fairs.

 In 2019, the contributions of fairs also included: 

  • $397 million in business revenue
  • 3,200 jobs
  • $10 million in tax revenues  
While the report data was primarily from 2019, the researchers noted some 2020 activities undertaken by fairs to demonstrate the community value fairs offer. 

Several fairgrounds, for example, were used to support efforts in addressing the pandemic, serving as temporary or permanent locations for coronavirus testing and vaccination. Other examples included the Lewis County Fairgrounds operating a homeless shelter in April 2020 as part of the pandemic response. The State Fair Park in Yakima County opened its RV park and stables to people and animals fleeing the Evans Canyon Fire in August. 

Annual agriculture fairs create fun experiences and memories for millions in Washington State. They are also economic engines that generate jobs and revenue for the local communities that host them. What’s not to love about a fair?

Visit WSDA’s Agricultural Fairs webpage to view the entire report.