Filters come to Trego School

Trego School’s Health and Safety Plan includes HEPA filters installed in air purifiers and in the heaters. While the filters for the heaters have not yet arrived (and are not expected to be needed soon, given current temperatures), the others are here.

HEPA filters specialize in filtering out the really small, things measured in microns (a micron, or micrometer, is a thousand times smaller than a millimeter). This means that they aren’t just going to pick up relatively large particles in the air such as dog hair.

These filters are effective at removing dust, pollen, and smoke particles from the air. This particular model will filter a 23 ft by 23 ft room in about 15 minutes.

The filters are plain, discrete, and nearly silent. The biggest risk seems to be that students and staff will wander over to the trashcan-like cylinder and have to redirect, a problem that should surely lessen with time.

While the immediate use of the filters is obvious, it will be interesting to see how well these filters help students with asthma, and allergies. Will they be pressed into service the next time our air is filled with smoke? Will we see less spread of other illnesses this year, as our schools check temperatures, wash hands, and spread out?

School starts on Wednesday, September 2nd. Enrollment information can be found on the school website.

Community, County Ordinances, Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Community Decay… Part 2

What exactly is community decay? Who does this apply to?

The Community Decay Ordinance for Lincoln County (2018-05) reads “It is unlawful for any person to maintain conditions that contribute to community decay on property owned, occupied, or controlled by him or her on or adjacent to any public roadway within the county.”

At this point, one might breath a sigh of relief. “On or adjacent to any public roadway”- that can’t apply to very much of the county, right?

Ah, but this ordinance begins with definitions. Adjacent: “beside, next to, contiguous or nearby. Properties adjacent to any public roadway and properties within public view, as defined within this ordinance”

This is a rather broad definition of adjacent, and I’d encourage the reader to consider how many places they know of that are “beside, next to, contiguous or nearby” a public roadway.

Next. Public view: “any area visible from any point up to six feet above the surface of the center of any public roadway”

So now we have any property “beside, next to, contiguous or nearby” any public roadway and “any area visible from any point up to six feet above the surface of the center of any public roadway”…

I’d encourage the reader to imagine just how far one could see from six feet above the center of a public roadway on a hill.

But wait- there’s more! All this assumes that we know what a public roadway is (it’s a road- right? Not quite). Fortunately, the ordinance includes a definition. Public roadway- “any highway, road, alley, lane, parking area, or other public or private space adapted and fitted for public travel that is in common use by the public”

So, that leaves us with a rather broad idea of what sort of places community decay is not allowed. And we haven’t even gotten to what community decay actually is! More next time.


Talking about Risk

A headline read, “What if we could live for a million years?”  My casual answer was “not a chance.”  Even if we could eliminate aging and disease, we still have to consider risk.  The National Safety Council reports 1.25 deaths for every 100 million miles of highway travel.  Assume 10,000 miles per year of highway travel, in the first thousand years of life, you’re up to 10 million miles.  That turns out to be a 1 out of 8 chance of dying – just from highway transportation.  The National Geographic gives odds of being struck by lightning as 1 in 700,000 each year, and one in 3,000 over a lifetime.  Increase the lifetime to that same 1,000 years, and the odds go up.  We live in a risk society, and often ignore that fact. 

I know a guy who survived a grizzly mauling, and I’ve known one who died from wasp stings.  Even in Trego, I encounter more wasps than bears.  CDC stats show 89 people who died from bee stings in 2017.  It isn’t a large risk – but 80% of the fatalities are male.  Bee stings are a greater risk to the male half of the population. 

Just about every endeavor includes misunderstood risks.  In 2018, the police fatality rate was 13.7 per 100,000 (bureau of labor and statistics).  CDC shows the 2017 fatality rate for farmers was 20.4 per 100,000.  BLS shows a rate of 132.7 per 100,000 loggers in 2015.  CDC shows bartenders have a higher on job fatality rate than police.  In some places policing is a relatively risky job – but in farm country and logging country it seems fairly safe.  Here’s the link to more data if this interests you.

When we started looking a Covid-19, we didn’t have the statistical data to calculate risk.  Now, we do have some data – and we’re seeing disagreements, mostly because folks see risks differently.  As I write, RealClearPolitics shows 5,746,272 confirmed cases in the US, and 177,424 deaths, yielding a 3.09% confirmed case fatality rate.  Still, that number goes from 8.25% in New Jersey to 0.79% in Utah.  We have solid numbers – but not numbers that allow us to calculate risk.  When we look at the charts that include age, we can begin to calculate risk – 70 is higher risk than 40.  80 is even higher.  New York numbers suggest that dense populations and public transportation increase risk – but not enough to calculate. 

The numbers let us develop ordinal data about covid risk – ranking things as more or less, rather than develop statistical data.  At 70, I’m at more risk than someone who is 50. The age data is good enough to develop some statistics – but the comorbidities that make it covid fatal mask that. Riding mass transportation is more dangerous than driving a car alone.  The virus doesn’t differentiate between bars and churches – open spaces are safer than crowded enclosed spaces.  So far we know that Covid is a bit more infectious than flu, and less infectious than measles.  Ordinal data. Buzz Hollander, a physician in Hawaii, has a good, readable article on covid at this site

Ask The Entomologist

Wasps… they’re not always out to get us.

What says midsummer better than unexpected wasp nests? Buzzing uncomfortably overhead, nests full to bursting with developing young. Dreadful things, right?

What would you say if I told you that aggressive wasps (think of your stereotypical Bald Faced Hornets) aren’t the only kind out there? Even within a single species, there are a wide variety of levels of aggression.

If a wasp is going to be aggressive to protect her nest, full of her offspring and her sisters’ offspring, she really has to go all out. If a wasp doesn’t give her all when driving potential threats away, chances are that the nest will have to repel more attacks, and the nest will be more likely to be detected by more dangerous predators! Predators who will attack and destroy that nest, despite angry wasps and stings. Both mammalian predators (bears, humans, etc.) and insect predators (especially ants!) are more likely to attack nests that reveal themselves by being aggressive.

While bears are stereotyped as being very fond of bees’ honey, they also relish eating the “brood”. “Brood” are the developing larvae or pupae that will grow up to become wasps or bees. While you can only get honey from some sorts of bees… you can get delicious brood from any active bee or wasp nest!
Think of snacking on sugary fresh fruit… now think of eating a ham sandwich… Which one makes you feel more full? Bears, especially young ones, love protein-rich young insects.

There’s another strategy for survival. What if the wasp was sneaky, stealthy, and conflict-avoidant instead of being crazy aggressive? It turns out that this is a valid strategy for survival, too. Think about it – if nobody knows the wasps are there, nobody will be trying to eat their brood!

Different colonies of the same species of wasps often vary widely in how aggressive they are! Not all paper wasp nests are terrible… I’ve certainly met some aggressive ones when cleaning roof gutters and peeling off siding, but I’ve met others of the same species who wanted nothing more than to escape notice! Look at this nest, tucked below the hinge of our vehicle’s front passenger door:

These wasps had no interest in attacking us – I got within 3 inches of them with my camera, and none made threat displays. I only noticed them because I saw the same species of wasp flying outside of the vehicle as we started it up… I saw these wasps several times in a row, despite it being parked at different places… including some where this particular paper wasp isn’t common. The wasps were being sneaky – they’d found a warm place to rear their young, inside a protected shell that ants and bears alike would be unlikely to spot them in. And it worked out well for them… until I saw them and decided that I didn’t want them meeting the dog.

Next week: How to read a wasp’s body language. Apologies, folks, wasp control instead.

Ask The Entomologist, Plants

Knapweed, my current enemy.

At this time of year, many hill-slopes have turned a sharp pink-purple color. Whether you’re in Glacier or driving along 93, you’ll see its flowers in the cuts alongside the road. Here in Trego proper, you can often find it in ditches, or there’s an abundant field of it downslope from the Trego Pub. Knapweed. It’s everywhere, and looking far healthier than anyone would like it to.

Spotted Knapweed: note the black markings on the green, just below the flower blossom – these are the “spots”.

Knapweed (Centaurea sp.) is a genus of invasive plant that plagues rangeland across western North America. Its seeds made landfall on the west coast, back in the early 1900s, possibly due to contaminated alfalfa seed. Now, over a century later, knapweeds flourish across America, from sea to shining sea, more successful than they were in their homeland of southern Russia.

Thanks to the absence of the specialist insect herbivores that didn’t journey with it to the New World, and its bad taste, few things eat knapweed. And even if you are able to get something to eat it, with taproots reaching up to four feet deep, Spotted Knapweed is able to resprout with ease. Most knapweeds are only palatable to cattle early in their growing phase, quickly outcompeting grasses in overgrazed areas. To emphasize how terrible it can be in rangeland, feeding on Russian Knapweed may even prove fatal to horses.

Several common native North American grasshoppers, notably the Red-Legged Grasshopper, feed on knapweed, but they weren’t effective at controlling it. Biocontrol began in the 1980s, with introduction of knapweed-specialist weevils, flies, and wasps. Over the past 40 years they’ve proven quite useful – if there are enough seed-head feeding insects, many fewer knapweed seeds are produced each year. It’s still not a quick fix – knapweed seeds can lay dormant in the soil for at least seven years.

The Knapweed Peacock Fly: introduced for biocontrol, its maggots destroy knapweed seedheads.

These introduced bugs have done wonderful things. Knapweed is much less a problem than it once was, but biocontrol alone isn’t enough. If you happen to have knapweed on your property, the best thing you can do is to start spraying herbicide. I’ve been having decent success eliminating it with Milestone (Aminopyralid).

As best I can tell, knapweed’s one virtue seems to be a high rate of nectar production – some folks enjoy making knapweed honey.

What are your thoughts on knapweed? Have you ever tried knap honey?

Community, Demography

Montana’s Greatest Climatologist

My one class in climate studies was about 40 years ago at Montana State University.  The professor was Joe Caprio . . . yeah, “The Father of Scientific Phenology.”  It’s interesting how many state climatologists make their starts as meteorologists.  Anyway, I was back in school, getting enough credits in ag engineering to qualify as a professional with SCS, and when I took his class on climate, and when he learned of my experience in snow surveys, it became Mike and Joe – a very honored Mike that was told “Call me Joe.”

Dr. Caprio’s specialization and research was climate events that occurred simultaneously with the first bloom of the common lilac.  Phenology is the study of cyclical plant and animal life events and how climate influences them.  If memory serves, evapotranspiration has used 8.2 inches of soil water when the lilacs bloom.  The blooms come at different times in different places, but always at the same number of growing degree days.  Beans, cucumbers and squash should be planted when the lilacs are in full bloom – it correlates with soil temperatures.  Lettuce should be planted when lilacs begin to leaf out. I didn’t remember these over the past 40 years, I looked them up here, and the site has a lot of other correlates that will help planting your garden if you have a lilac around.

In Montana – heck, across the west, lilacs were planted at most homesteads, and in most towns.  The first leaf, the first blossom, full bloom, all provided specific points of data to Dr. Caprio.  Of course his research included standardizing the lilac, and providing clones to volunteers who would note the significant dates of blossoming, leaf growth, etc.  To Joe Caprio, climatology was everyone’s science, and while his research depended on many volunteers, the projects were inexpensive.  He taught that science is method, and in my later career, I realized that by using U-haul rates as a proxy for migration data that didn’t exist, I just extrapolated from the lessons Dr. Caprio gave me as I mixed sociology and ag engineering to begin my own professional career. 

This article describes the studies that originated with Dr. Joe Caprio at MSU: This one is also worth reading.


Trego School Board Met Wednesday

The five-member board meets on the second Wednesday each month at 6 PM. However, in-person attendance is no longer necessary. On the agenda, which can be found prior to the meeting in the school or post office, there are instructions on how to attend the meeting via GoToMeeting. Visitors can join with their computer (headset recommended), dial in with their telephone, or join via the GoToMeeting App.

If you join, you’ll see the school board members and board clerk distributed at widely spaced tables. Across from it all is a large television that’s setup to interface with GoToMeeting and allow community members to attend board meetings without needing to be physically present.

During the meeting on Wednesday August 12th, the board discussed the Health and Safety Plan for the 20-21 School Year. The plan is available on the school website and includes details about temperature screening, HEPA filters, and disinfectants. Additionally, the plan addresses the “what if” scenarios for what the school will do in the event of a student or staff member becoming infected with COVID-19.

In the event of a community member becoming infected, the school will adjust recess and PE for social distancing, convert lunch to a “grab and go” eaten at spaced apart desks within the classroom. If a student or staff member becomes infected, the school will shift to distance learning for two weeks. Breakfast and lunch will be delivered to students’ homes via the school bus, and distance learning will use iPads and Chromebooks, avoiding the use of paper packets.

Additionally, the meeting included the Trustee Financial Summary Report and discussion of the 20-21 budget.

New business for the meeting included HVAC system filters and Air Purifiers, as well as a Distance Learning Parent/Student-School Contract.

Finally, Trego’s School Board has a vacant position. Community members interested in joining the school board should contact the school clerk.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 9th at 6PM. School starts the week before, on Wednesday, September 2nd.

Community, Demography

Searching Lincoln County Data

There’s a long-term question of whether North Lincoln County gets fairly treated in county services.  Back when the county was created in 1909, it made sense – everything drained into the Kootenai (except for Stryker, and driving 93 toward Kalispell makes it easy to see how that mistake was made.)  Sixty years later, Libby Dam removed the towns along the Kootenai that were the middle of the county.  Since then, Lincoln County has existed with a center that is “drive-through” and commerce from Eureka generally goes along highway 93. 

The easiest way to get the taxable values data is to search by school districts.  The Office of Public Instruction shows them, and we only need to check the 3 high schools.  This data is from the FY2021 budget reports.

Taxable ValuationPercentage
Libby District$13,407,78336.7%
LCHS (Eureka)$16,318,59244.7%
Troy$ 6,775,14618.6%
County Total$36,501,521100%

The county lists 7 school districts and taxable values are available by school district, and the 2010 Census SF1 provides population data by school districts.  Libby has a unified school district, while Eureka needs Fortine and Trego added, and Troy needs Yaak and McCormack added.  The 2010 Census Profile shows:

PopulationTotal PopulationPercentage
Libby9,8449,84450 %
Total3,58318 %
Total6,26032 %
Lincoln County19,687100%


Taking the taxable values and apportioning through the population, allows us to rank the proportion of county services each resident of the three districts funds:

High School DistrictTaxable Valuation per Capita
Lincoln County High School$1,680.77
County Average$1,586.88

The data demonstrates that the burden of funding Lincoln County’s services falls lightest on the average Libbyan, heavier on the North County, and heaviest on the Trojans.   Demonstrating that the North County receives less service requires a different method of extracting data.

Ask The Entomologist

Control of earwigs

Are earwigs our friends or foes?

That depends on the context.

Earwigs are primarily scavengers of rotting plant material. They aren’t likely to damage your garden plants themselves. As omnivores, they often help control aphids, mites, and various pest insect eggs… and I’m more than willing to put up with them if it means fewer aphids.

However, if your garden plants become damaged by other things (e.g. rot on cabbage leaves along the edges of Pierid caterpillar feeding), earwigs may contribute and make the damage worse. It’s not uncommon to find earwigs when shucking corn, often in the tassels, sometimes feeding on the corn itself. It’s rare for them to damage harder-skinned fruits such as apples (the skin tends to be too hard for them to get past on their own), but they may become a nuisance if fruit damage from birds is present.

If you want your earwigs gone, I’m willing to provide a bit of advice. Try removing their shelters near your home (big rocks alongside the house, piles of old boards, wet mulch, pretty much anything decaying, etc.).

Outside, earwigs can be trapped by burying small tin cans (pet food cans or tuna cans are the perfect size) or disposable cups level with the ground, and filling them with cheap cooking oil (leave at least an inch of space from the top). Earwigs and similar insect scavengers will try to feed and will fall to their oily deaths. Depending on your local wildlife, this may be an unwise tactic.

If they’re inside the house, set up a trap of moist newspaper rolled into tubes, containing a small amount of bait (rolled oats, wheat bran or wheat germ). The main idea is to create a dark daytime shelter that the earwigs will like. Check your trap every two or three days. When opening your earwig traps, either bag and trash the whole setup… Or shake the earwigs into an empty container to give them to chickens as feed (the flock my folks kept loved eating them).

If you want to wage more aggressive warfare against earwigs, consider using diatomaceous earth. This comes from ancient freshwater sediments rich in the sharp glass-like remains of tiny algae called diatoms. It controls insects by damaging their outer waxy layer, causing them to die from dehydration. Diatomaceous earth should be spread in areas earwigs are likely to cross, entrance points to your home and places where they are abundant. If in the garden, ring the bases of plants you are concerned for with it.

If you want to go the chemical warfare route, both permethrin and carbaryl (Sevin) have forms that are safe for use around food plants. I would recommend using a bait rather than a spray poison, as it will kill fewer of your beneficial garden insects like ground beetles and lady beetles. If earwigs are your target, you should be putting down poison in the evenings, as they are primarily nocturnal, and that way you’ll waste less of your bait on non-target insects.

Consider commenting below to let us know how your earwig control efforts are going!
What other insects would you like to hear about?

Next week: Wasps!

County Ordinances, Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Community Decay…Part 1

One could be forgiven for assuming that community decay ordinances were the business of rather fussy municipalities in places other than here. One would, as it happens, be wrong on two counts. Lincoln County, Montana, has one.

Back in December of 2018 the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners adopted Ordinance 2018-05 “An Ordinance to Control Community Decay Within Lincoln County and to Establish Procedures for its Enforcement”.

So, this leaves us with several pressing questions:

  • What exactly is community decay?
  • Who does this apply to?
  • Enforcement?

None of these have short answers, so I’ll discuss each in depth in later posts. For now, the quick summary:

  • Community Decay
    • Anything that is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstructive of the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property...” that affects multiple people. Unless it’s agricultural- then, it’s okay.
  • Who does this apply to?
    • Renters/Landowners on property in the county adjacent to a public roadway (We’ll discuss what exactly a public roadway is, for these purposes, at a later date)
  • Enforcement
    • Misdemeanor: Fine up to $500 and/or 6 months imprisonment (Each day of violation is a separate violation…)