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Each January, we unite as communities, as a state and as a nation to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrate his dream of equality for all.

Dr. King was among the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and spent his life sharing his dream for the future of our nation - one that was built on justice. His vision and perseverance demonstrated a faith in the good of people and challenged all Americans to be stewards of change and peace. His words and deeds were at the heart of a revolution that changed the face of America forever.

This afternoon, I joined Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead, the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission and West Virginians from across the state in a celebratory bell ringing ceremony honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King. As we paid tribute to his life and many accomplishments, we reaffirmed our commitment to sharing his legacy with those across the state.

Today and each day throughout the year, it is my hope we all work to be stewards of change in our lives and within our communities where inequalities and injustices still remain. Together, I’m confident we can and will continue to make a difference in the Mountain State.

Bird-Eating Hawks Just Do What Comes Naturally

The evidence is usually obvious. A pile of brown feathers indicates a mourning dove. Red feathers mean cardinal. Yellow suggests a goldfinch.

Whenever I find a bunch of feathers in the yard, I’m confident a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk has probably visited. And if I happen to be nearby when the kill occurs, the sky can rain soft, downy feathers immediately after the kill. It’s no wonder backyard birds spook so easily.

But given the realities of beak and talon, I understand. A fleeting shadow crosses the yard and, in unison, all the birds freeze or flee. If I detect the panic, I scan the nearby trees for the hunter. Bird-eating hawks can wreak havoc at backyard feeding stations.

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks eat birds.  In fact, as much as 97% of their diet is typically avian prey. Killing and eating songbirds doesn’t make bird-eating hawks bad. It’s simply their role in the ecological play performed on every backyard stage. If it hasn’t happened yet, eventually a bird-eating hawk will visit your feeders. And it won’t be seeds it’s after.

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There’s nothing we can do to “get rid” of backyard hawks; they are federally protected. But you can make feeding stations safer by hanging feeders within ten feet of trees or shrubs to provide escape cover for smaller birds.

Another solution to the problem is an attitude adjustment. Try to appreciate the drama of predator and prey. I tell myself I’m lucky when a hawk visits my backyard. It’s not often I get a close look at such a normally secretive bird. And it’s rarer still to witness the matching of predator and prey. It’s not often we get to watch a raptor in action. So I sit back and savor the drama. After all, the hawk doesn’t always win. In fact, it usually loses. Typically, fewer than half of a hawk’s strikes are successful.

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks are easy to recognize, but difficult to distinguish. Both are blue-gray above and have reddish brown barring across the chest, and both species have a long narrow tail. Though sharpies are smaller, females of both species are larger than males, and the size of female sharpies and male Cooper’s hawks can overlap. Distinguishing female sharpies from male Cooper’s can frustrate even experienced birders. At the extremes, a male sharp-shin can be as small as a blue jay, while a female Cooper’s can be as big as a crow. A few summers ago I witnessed a sharpie attack. I was working outside when a hummingbird buzzed around the corner of the house. It flew across the road and down the hill. A split second later came the speeding sharpie. It followed precisely the same flight path the hummer had taken and quickly gained ground. When it snatched the hummingbird from the air, I heard a faint futile scream.

Another time while banding birds in the backyard, I had netted a half dozen goldfinches before processing and banding them. As I finished with each bird, I released it. All but the last flew uneventfully into the vegetation that surrounded the yard. The last goldfinch flew straight up — a fatal mistake.

As the finch flapped skyward, a sharp-shinned hawk that had been quietly perched unseen in a neighbor’s pine tree launched itself toward the goldfinch. Without missing a wing beat, the hawk grabbed the finch and flew to a favorite perch. There the hawk plucked its prey, and yellow feathers fell gently to the ground.

An understandable reaction to predators is often horror, anger and/or sadness. But in nature, life and death are inexorably intertwined. Every death sustains another life. Nature’s cycle of life and death is neither good nor bad. It just is.

~~  Dr. Scott Shalaway - 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 ~~

Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On The Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food

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I retired 10 years ago after a long career as a research scientist for Agriculture Canada. When I was on the payroll, I was the designated scientist of my institute to address public groups and reassure them that genetically engineered crops and foods were safe. There is, however, a growing body of scientific research – done mostly in Europe, Russia, and other countries – showing that diets containing engineered corn or soya cause serious health problems in laboratory mice and rats.

I don’t know if I was passionate about it but I was knowledgeable. I defended the side of technological advance, of science and progress.
In the last 10 years I have changed my position. I started paying attention to the flow of published studies coming from Europe, some from prestigious labs and published in prestigious scientific journals, that questioned the impact and safety of engineered food.

I refute the claims of the biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and of course that they are safe to eat.

There are a number of scientific studies that have been done for Monsanto by universities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Most of these studies are concerned with the field performance of the engineered crops, and of course they find GMOs safe for the environment and therefore safe to eat.

Individuals should be encouraged to make their decisions on food safety based on scientific evidence and personal choice, not on emotion or the personal opinions of others.

We should all take these studies seriously and demand that government agencies replicate them rather than rely on studies paid for by the biotech companies.

The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides. But are these insecticidal plants regulated and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the U.S.

There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely.

These studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins.

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Genetic engineering is 40 years old. It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the One Gene – one protein hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong.

The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding. Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic.

I have drafted a reply to Paul Horgen’s letter to the Comox Valley Environmental Council. It is my wish that it goes viral as to educate as many people as possible rapidly. Any and all social media is fine by me. This can also be used as a briefing note for the councilors of AVICC or anywhere else. Thank you for your help.

I am turning you towards a recent compilation (June 2012) of over 500 government reports and scientific articles published in peer reviewed Journals, some of them with the highest recognition in the world. Like The Lancet in the medical field, or Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, or Biotechnology, or Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, European Journal of Histochemistry, Journal of Proteome Research, etc. This compilation was made by a genetic engineer in London, and an investigative journalist who summarized the gist of the publications for the lay public.

GMO Myths and Truths – an evidence based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops. A report of 120 pages, it can be downloaded for free from Earth Open Source. “GMO Myths and Truths” disputes the claims of the Biotech industry that GM crops yield better and more nutritious food, that they save on the use of pesticides, have no environmental impact whatsoever and are perfectly safe to eat. Genetic pollution is so prevalent in North and South America where GM crops are grown that the fields of conventional and organic grower are regularly contaminated with engineered pollen and losing certification. The canola and flax export market from Canada to Europe (a few hundreds of millions of dollars) were recently lost because of genetic pollution. Did I mention superweeds, when RoundUp crops pass their genes on to RoundUp Resistant weeds. Apparently over 50% of fields in the USA are now infested and the growers have to go back to use other toxic herbicides such as 2-4 D. Many areas of Ontario and Alberta are also infested. The transgenes are also transferred to soil bacteria.

A Chinese study published last year shows that an ampicillin resistance transgene was transferred from local engineered crops to soil bacteria, that eventually found their way into the rivers. The transgenes are also transferred to humans. Volunteers who ate engineered soybeans had undigested DNA in their intestine and their bacterial flora was expressing the soybean transgenes in the form of antibiotic resistance. This is genetic pollution to the extreme, particularly when antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a serious global health risk. I can only assume the American Medical Association will soon recognize its poorly informed judgement.

In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium of GM foods, safety testing and labeling. Their review of the available literature at the time noted that animals show serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. Monsanto writes “There is no need to test the safety of GM foods”. So long as the engineered protein is safe, foods from GM crops are substantially equivalent and they cannot pose any health risks.” The US Food and Drug Administration waived all levels of safety testing in 1996 before approving the commercialization of these crops. Nothing more than voluntary research is necessary, and the FDA does not even want to see the results. And there is certainly no need to publish any of it. If you remember 1996, the year that the first crops were commercialized, the research scientists of the US FDA all predicted that transgenic crops would have unpredictable hard to detect side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, new diseases. That was published in 2004 in Biotechnology if you recall seeing it.

I know well that Canada does not perform long term feeding studies as they do in Europe. The only study I am aware of from Canada is from the Sherbrooke Hospital in 2011, when doctors found that 93% of pregnant women and 82% of the fetuses tested had the protein pesticide in their blood. This is a protein recognized in its many forms as mildly to severely allergenic. There is no information on the role played by rogue proteins created by the process of inserting transgenes in the middle of a genome. But there is a lot of long term feeding studies reporting serious health problems in mice and rats. The results of the first long term feeding studies of lab rats reported last year in Food and Chemical Toxicology show that they developed breast cancer in mid life and showed kidney and liver damage. The current statistic I read is that North Americans are eating 193 lbs of GMO food on average annually. That includes the children I assume, not that I would use that as a scare tactic. But obviously I wrote at length because I think there is cause for alarm and it is my duty to educate the public.

One argument I hear repeatedly is that nobody has been sick or died after a meal (or a trillion meals since 1996) of GM food. Nobody gets ill from smoking a pack of cigarette either. But it sure adds up, and we did not know that in the 1950s before we started our wave of epidemics of cancer. Except this time it is not about a bit of smoke, it’s the whole food system that is of concern. The corporate interest must be subordinated to the public interest, and the policy of substantial equivalence must be scrapped as it is clearly untrue.

~~  Thierry Vrain - A former research scientist for Agriculture Canada ~~

Victory! Thank Board of Ed Members for Nixing Climate Denial

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Good news! The West Virginia Board of Education voted today to remove climate change denial from new science standards for WV students.

This victory for WV kids was made possible because of you and thousands of fellow parents, grandparents and science supporters who petitioned the Board to fix the inaccurate and misleading climate content.

When policymakers do the right thing, it’s important to thank them!

Please join us in thanking members of the West Virginia Board of Education for removing climate denial from new science standards for K-12 students. 

There is still one more step before we can rest assured that West Virginia kids will be taught accurate climate science. The Board is placing the original climate education language contained in the Next Generation Science Standards out for 30 days of public comment. We’ll be back in touch with opportunities to support these accurate climate science standards, which were written and peer-reviewed by scientists and educators.

But in the meantime, let’s take a moment to celebrate—and thank the Board for doing the right thing for West Virginia kids.

Thank the West Virginia Board of Education for removing inaccurate and misleading information about climate change from new science standards.

Thank you for taking action for West Virginia students and accurate climate science!


Lisa and John
Climate Parents
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P.S. Check out some of the coverage of the Board meeting that mentions our petition:

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WV State School Board Moves Back Toward Original Climate Change Standards

After widespread criticism from teachers, professors and others, the West Virginia Board of Education voted Wednesday to withdraw a set of science education standards containing controversial modifications to the teaching of climate change. 

The new version, which will be open for a 30-day public comment period, doesn’t contain the alterations to the three standards on climate change the board earlier approved.

Clayton Burch, executive director of the state’s Office of Early Learning and interim associate state superintendent, said the version will be up for a board vote in March. The standards will go into effect for the 2016-17 school year.

After previously defending the changes as a way to foster student debate and critical thinking on the topic, the Department of Education recommended at Wednesday’s meeting going back on the alterations.

The move comes after the school board and the department caught national attention and considerable criticism from residents and academics about the changes, which were made to new K-12 science teaching requirements based off the National Next Generation Science Standards blueprint. If passed, the standards will be the first time Mountain State students will be required, in non-elective courses, to learn about evidence for human-driven climate change.

At the request of school board member Wade Linger, who has said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a “foregone conclusion,” the teaching requirements concerning climate change were altered before the board placed them in a public comment period in October and voted to adopt them last month.

The changes, for example, would have added “and fall,” after “rise,” to a proposed standard requiring that sixth-graders “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.”

Only Linger and fellow board member Tom Campbell, who had brought up coal funding for the state’s education system when he was previously interviewed by the Gazette, voted no on Wednesday’s action.

Campbell told the Gazette he felt his comments about coal were misinterpreted but didn’t specify how Wednesday. He said he didn’t want to get into a debate about climate change and coal. He had argued at first that the alterations weren’t major.

However, board member Bill White, who said he has a background in chemistry, disagreed, saying, “When you start talking scientific facts, it doesn’t take a lot to make a major change.” 

“One of the things we did as scientists is, we depended on peer-review,” White said. “Peer-review is really what makes science work.”

The peer-reviewed science overwhelmingly shows that human greenhouse gas emissions are a major driver of global warming. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released dire reports about climate change impacts with a more than 95% certainty that humans are the main cause.

After the Gazette first reported on the modifications in late December, the national nonprofit Climate Parents, which has fought attempts to undermine climate change teaching in other states, said it would begin circulating a petition in early January asking the board to rescind the modifications.

Other groups, including the National Center for Science Education and the Citizens Climate Lobby, also spoke out.

Last week, school board President Gayle Manchin — who said she trusted the Department of Education staff’s earlier assertion that the standards changes were sound — said the board would discuss the changes this week in response to the concerns raised. Manchin was the only member besides Linger who told the Gazette she knew about the changes before adopting them.

On Saturday, the West Virginia Science Teachers Association — part of the group of West Virginia stakeholders that critiqued the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint, of which West Virginia was one of 26 lead state partners in creating — told the Gazette it opposed the changes. The association had endorsed the full set of standards before the school board adopted them but said the board had made the climate change alterations without consulting it.

Association President Libby Strong said she and others read the version of the standards that went out for public comment, but perhaps didn’t look closely enough because the alterations were only a few lines among 70 pages and they thought they were reviewing a version the association had already seen.

On Monday, about 100 members of West Virginia University’s Faculty Senate unanimously voted to ask the board to reverse the changes, Faculty Senate Chairwoman Jennifer Orlikoff said.

On Tuesday, a petition by 83 WVU faculty members also asked the board to turn back. The National Science Teachers Association requested the same thing, and the citizen group Friends of Blackwater decided to unveil early its report outlining damage that global warming is doing to the state’s Allegheny Highlands.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Climate Parents presented to the school board petitions, circulated by several organizations and signed by more than 3,500 West Virginia “parents and science supporters,” asking for members to “correct inaccurate and misleading content in the altered climate change standards.”

“Ensuring students are taught evidence-based facts in their science education is a fundamental principle that the Board affirmed today, after veering off course in December in adopting altered climate science standards,” Climate Parents director Lisa Hoyos said in a statement. “Parents by the thousands stood up for accurate climate science education, and we are thankful that the West Virginia Board of Education listened to us.”

Herman Mays, a parent and Marshall University assistant professor, delivered the petition and was one of several individuals to speak against the changes.

Several Marshall students were among those who spoke for them. 

Burch told the board that Achieve — the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that helped create the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint, along with the national Common Core English/language arts and math standards — told the department that the changes put the standards out of alignment with the national blueprint.

Chad Colby, spokesman for Achieve, said that when the Gazette previously interviewed him about West Virginia’s changes, the organization hadn’t seen them. While maintaining that there’s no punishment for states that customize the national standards, which they voluntarily adopt, he said Wednesday that West Virginia’s changes deviated from the science.

“We said if you change the science, you haven’t adopted the Next Generation Science Standards,” Colby said.

Burch also said that since December, the department had the chance to talk with teachers who worked on the standards before the changes were made. An audience member following Burch angrily criticized the department for apparently reaching out to teachers about the changes only after the board had already passed them.

Manchin said she didn’t want to go against the work that West Virginia teachers did in vetting the standards and called the controversy a learning opportunity.

~~  Ryan Quinn - Charleston Gazette ~~

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Facing Backlash, West Virginia Board Of Education Votes
To Make Climate Change Curriculum Scientifically Accurate

The West Virginia Board of Education voted Wednesday to change newly-agreed upon science standards and make them once again available for public comment, an act that came after pressure from parents and others in the state who felt that the standards didn’t accurately portray the science of climate change.

In December, the West Virginia Board of Education approved statewide science education standards that were based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) but which contained altered portions aimed at portraying climate change as a debate. The Board decided Wednesday that the standards will be changed back to their original NGSS versions — with the climate-change-doubting alterations removed — and released for public comment. In March, after the public commenting period is complete, the Board of Education will vote again on the standards.

Only two board members voted “no” in Wednesday’s decision to take out the changes to the standards and revert them back to their original NGSS state. One of them, board member Wade Linger, was the member who originally suggested the board change the standards so that they portrayed climate change as more of a debate.

“There was a question in there that said: ‘Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century,” Linger said of the standards in December. “… If you have that as a standard, then that presupposes that global temperatures have risen over the past century, and, of course, there’s debate about that.”

The board accepted Linger’s requests in December, despite the fact that, among climate scientists, there’s broad consensus over what’s causing climate change.

Some West Virginians, as well as education advocates outside the state, weren’t happy about the Board of Education’s December changes to the NGSS. On Wednesday, representatives from climate education group Climate Parents delivered petitions with more than 3,500 signatures to the Board of Education meeting, calling on the board to “replace altered climate content with the original peer-reviewed climate science standards written by scientists and science educators.”

Lisa Hoyos, Director of Climate Parents, praised the Board of Education’s decision to re-issue the standards without the climate-denying additions Wednesday.

“Ensuring students are taught evidence-based facts in their science education is a fundamental principle that the Board affirmed today, after veering off course in December in adopting altered climate science standards,” she said. “Parents by the thousands stood up for accurate climate science education, and we are thankful that the West Virginia Board of Education listened to us.”

The standards that West Virginia’s science standards were originally based on — the NGSS — were put together by 26 states and several science and education organizations. So far, 13 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, which serve as guidelines for science teachers and seek to ensure that students from state to state are receiving a similar, fact-based science education. Last March, Wyoming became the first state to reject the standards.

~~  Katie Valentine - Climate Progress ~~

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