ForumAgriculture and WildlifeMore
Like farms and ranches throughout the nation, our Henry A. Wallace
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) is home to diverse native
wildlife. In fact, the "Green Wedge"the 30,000-plus-acre
natural area we share with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Patuxent
Research Refuge and other government agenciesharbors a native
gene pool of worldwide significance.
The article on page 12 shows how the interactions of our agricultural
researchers with Patuxent wildlife researchers and with this precious
land resource end up benefiting both wildlife and the American public
by providing a healthier, safer food supply and cleaner air, water,
and soil. It also shows how controlling agricultural pests without synthetic
pesticides can benefit wildlife, farmers, and the general public.
The article describes some of the work of the ARS
Insect Biocontrol Laboratory at Beltsville. This lab contributes to
sustainable agricultural systems by developing naturally derived pest
control agents, decreasing the amounts of synthetic insecticides used,
reducing undesirable effects of synthetic pesticides, and delaying development
of resistance to environmentally friendly insect control measures.
A pair of nesting bald eagles overlooking a swamp created at BARC by
beavers is a telling symbol of our environmental stewardship of this
Beaver Dam Creek flows below the eagles' nest80 feet up, in an
oak tree at the swamp's edgeon past the composting center where
we turn all our organic waste into compost that's used in our nutrient
management plan for crop fields and mulch for landscaping at BARC.
About 10 years ago, we started a sustainable agriculture program enabling
us to practice what we preach. We began incorporating ARS research results
into farm operations we use to grow corn, soybean, wheat, rye, and other
crops to feed our livestock.
The composting center came from that program, along with buffer strips
around the facility to protect Beaver Dam Creek. We have placed 20-foot-wide
grass buffer strips around 80 percent of our fields and adopted many
other practicesincluding reforestationto filter out possible
pollutants before they reach our streams. The stream water is now clean
enough to support brown trout. Our streams are tributaries that feed
into the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River, which flows into the
Potomac River and then to the Chesapeake Bay. We have reduced pesticide
use at BARC by 75 percent from what we used 10 years ago.
Reflecting our concern for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we received
the White House "Closing the Circle" award for our use and
demonstration of biodiesel in 2000, for environmental management in
2001, and for our use of biobased products in 2002.
The late Helene Cecile, who was an ARS expert on poultry feed contaminants,
worked closely with Patuxent experts on pesticides and other contaminants
endangering wildlife. Scientists at the ARS Environmental Quality Laboratory
here continue this work.
BARC scientists are doing agricultural research, and Patuxent scientists
are doing wildlife research, and they mesh quite nicely in these research
Bob Whitcomb, a retired ARS entomologist who is still an active collaborator,
works closely with Patuxent scientists, both on research and on his
private birding interests. Whitcomb inspired a great number of scientistsmany
at our Insect Biocontrol Laboratory, like Ed Clark and Kevin Thorpeto
These are typical of BARC scientists who, both on and off duty, promote
environmental causeswhether it is speaking to the public, participating
in Earth Day festivities, interesting young people in nature and science,
or working with organic or other sustainable agriculture farmer groups.
The late Larry Zeleny, a retired BARC scientist, started the North
American Bluebird Society with a trail of bluebird nesting boxes still
maintained on fenceposts here. Today there are similar trails across
Doug Bolt, a retired BARC animal scientist, leads a birders' group
for BARC employees, showing them the eagles and numerous songbirds and
wildfowl during monthly lunchtime outings. Our current agricultural
scientists, like Clark and Thorpe, continue this tradition as naturalist-scientists
because of their love of the outdoors, keen observation skills, and
sense of wonder at organisms like microbes and insects.
These employees participate on their own time in national bird surveys
that document the birds of BARC and surrounding lands while contributing
to scientific understanding of birds and their migrations. Clark has
his own growing list of amphibians at BARC. The article in this issue
announces that a guide to the identification of BARC flora will soon
It makes sense to inventory the native flora and fauna at BARC because
they contain the genetic heritage of our farm. From this gene pool can
come natural biocontrol agents to help us further reduce pesticide and
fertilizer use on our farmand the nation's farms. In fact, a new
gypsy moth control called GYPCHEK was developed using a virus native
As good stewards, we recognize the need to respect, preserve, and enjoy this biodiversity and the land that supports it.
Phyllis E. Johnson
"Forum" was published in the October 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.