STORY | CALENDAR
Jan. 1, 2004
The mad cow scare
Local ranchers worry about the impact
Local birders carry on a 103-year-old tradition
mad cow scare
Local ranchers worry about
by HANK SIMS
Consumers from around the nation
have reacted with alarm to the discovery of the crippling "mad
cow disease" in Washington state last week. But while local
residents probably need not fear contracting the disease through
tainted beef, Humboldt County cattle ranchers may have more to
Lou Mora, who runs cattle with
his father on their ranch in Fortuna, said Monday that unless
the nation's beef industry could quell fear of the disease, the
already struggling Humboldt County beef industry might suffer.
"Public perception is our
biggest problem," he said. "We need to settle and stabilize
the market, to keep it from going down. We've already taken a
The human form of mad cow, Variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), is a horrifying illness that
attacks and gradually destroys the brain and central nervous
system. Around 80 Europeans, most from the United Kingdom, died
of the disease during a mad cow outbreak in the '90s. There is
no known cure.
Nevertheless, a recall of beef
from the Washington slaughterhouse where the infected cow was
processed was considered a "Level II" recall by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning that there is only a
remote chance of anyone becoming ill from the meat. Infected
cattle carry the disease in their brains and spinal columns,
both of which were destroyed in the case of the Washington cow.
Eating muscle tissue from an infected cow is not believed to
The recalled meat, which was
distributed in part by Interstate Meat Distributors of Clackamas,
Ore., ended up in eight western states and Guam. Interstate Meat
is one of the suppliers for the Safeway and WinCo chains, both
of which have stores on the North Coast.
A manager at the Eureka WinCo
said Monday that although the store had not determined whether
any of its beef was part of the batch that was recalled, it had
pulled all Interstate Meat products from its shelves. Teena Massingill,
a public affairs official with Safeway's Northern California
division, said that no beef from Interstate Meat is sold in its
Northern California stores.
Immediately after the infected
cow was discovered, countries around the world including some
of America's largest trading partners began banning U.S. beef.
The bans sent the Chicago Mercantile Board price of cattle futures
on a downward spiral, dropping more than10 percent in a matter
The sudden fall in prices threatens
to wipe out record gains in the price of beef throughout the
autumn. Gary Markegard, livestock and natural resources advisor
for the local U.C. Cooperative Extension office, said that the
fall's highs were due to a number of factors: a mad cow scare
in Canada (where the infected Washington cow originated) and
a growing interest in the protein-heavy Atkins diet.
Mora said that Humboldt County
ranchers were lucky that the first U.S. occurrence of the disease
was discovered in the winter rather than in the summer and fall
months, when sales of most local animals occur.
"We are very fortunate
for the timing," he said. "Local ranchers aren't selling
a lot of cattle at this time of year. Hopefully, we can return
the market to regular levels by the time they do."
Many of the beef cattle produced
locally are sold to feed lots in the Central Valley, where they
are fattened on grains and end up as part of the national meat
trade. A lasting drop in prices could have
devastating effects on the industry,
already hampered by high transportation costs and competition
A recent survey of Humboldt
County agriculture undertaken by the local chapter of the Farm
Bureau showed that only 11 percent of the county's cattle ranchers
had experienced an increase in profits over the last five years.
By comparison, 22 percent of dairy farmers and 44 percent of
fruit-and-vegetable producers reported increased profits over
the same period.
A quarter of local beef producers
said that they may be interested in selling their land. A health
scare especially one as frightening as mad cow could only worsen
In response to the European
crisis, the United States banned the feeding of animal proteins
waste products from the slaughterhouse to living cattle in 1997.
The practice was found to be the means through which the disease
was spread among a herd. Cattle under 6 years of age are therefore
not believed to have any risk of carrying the disease, and most
beef cattle are slaughtered at a much younger age.
Mora, who produces beef for
the North Coast Co-op, said that he wanted to assure consumers
that such reforms meant that they had no reason to shy away from
beef especially local beef.
"We personally handle each
animal," he said. "We know where each animal comes
from. I'm 100 percent sure that the meat we sell locally is safe."
Local birders carry on
a 103-year-old tradition
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
It all started back in 1900,
when ornithologist Frank Chapman decided to do something with
For years, the "side hunt"
had been a holiday tradition; hunters would organize themselves
into teams and go out on Christmas Day to see which team could
shoot the most birds and small animals.
As a protest against the annual
slaughter, Chapman and 27 friends started a different kind of
tradition on Christmas Day 103 years ago; instead of killing
birds, they counted them.
Based in 25 North American locations
stretching from the East Coast to Toronto, Canada, to Pacific
Grove, they tallied a total of 90 different species.
Today, more than 50,000 birders,
or "observers" as they're also called, participate
in the annual Christmas Count, which is sponsored by the Audubon
Society. The count takes place in nearly 2,000 locations, across
North America and as far away as some tropical islands in the
The count period lasts from
Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, a time when most birds are in the late stages
of their southward migrations. The data generated by the count
comprise the longest running database in ornithology; when combined
with other bird surveys, they help bird experts see how the continent's
bird populations have changed in time and space over the past
The first Christmas count in
Humboldt County was held in the Centerville beach area in 1959.
Today, there are four Christmas counts in the region: the "Del
Norte Count," covering Del Norte County, occurred this year
on Dec. 14 (many of the birders involved were from Humboldt);
the "Arcata Count," started in 1984, took place on
Dec. 20, and mainly covered the northern Humboldt Bay area; the
"Willow Creek Count," which targets inland bird species,
was held this past weekend; and the "Centerville Count"
is happening this weekend.
Like the infamous side hunts,
the Christmas counts are all about numbers. A total of 155 species
were either seen or heard in the Del Norte count (the record
is 173); 180 species were detected in the Arcata count, just
two shy of the all-time record; and 79 species were detected
in the Willow Creek count. (The lower number is typical for the
Willow Creek count as there is a greater concentration of birds
and a wider variety of habitats along the coast.)
The Arcata count produced the
most remarkable findings. At the top of the list was the sighting
of a Le Conte's sparrow, first seen on Dec. 2 by two Humboldt
State University ornithology students. It was found again during
the count on pastureland west of Arcata in the Mad River Slough
Wildlife Area. It's a bird of the northern plains and at this
time of year is supposed to be in the southern part of the country
or in Mexico.
Longtime local birder David
Fix, 46, said birders looked for the sparrow for an hour on the
day of the Arcata count before they spied its distinctive orange
Gary Lester, 51, who led the
Willow Creek count, said the Arcata count produced another noteworthy
sighting: an acorn woodpecker on the east side on Fickle Hill,
the first time that species had ever been detected in the Arcata
One bird that wasn't spotted
during the Arcata count was the common grackle, a big blackbird
normally found east of the Rockies. It was seen on Nov. 28 along
the Mad River, feeding in a field of pumpkin and corn stubble
with a large flock of another type of blackbird and some crows.
Evidently the food got old,
or ran out.
"Birds are just like people,"
Fix said. "They'll go where the action is until there's
no more action."
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