An imbalanced food web and Lyme disease

Maine’s extremely large and growing tick population is to blame for human contracted tick-borne diseases such as the Lyme epidemic. This was the result of an increase in tick hatching and growing habitat.

The root of the problem was driven by a disruption in the food web caused by the artificial introduction of wild turkeys. Wild turkeys were introduced to southern Maine by 1980. Relocation continued across the state for 20 years by netting birds from established New England flocks. The goal of the program was to increase hunting opportunities. Regulated, permit-only hunting kept the birds safe and propagated the current population.

Increased wild turkey populations have caused disruptions in the bug food chain. Voracious, shoulder to shoulder eating habits have stripped tracts of woods, edge and grassland of large protein-filled grasshoppers, caterpillars, worms, grubs, beetles and spiders, among others. Leaving areas reduced in bug life is detrimental to many wild creatures (migratory song birds, snakes, shrews, voles and moles) and beneficial to others (gypsy moths, Japanese beetles and ticks).

Many species of spiders and insects rely on other bugs for food. These creatures are called predator bugs. Their populations reflect the amount of protein a particular area’s bugs are producing. Foliage and grass-eating insects convert vegetation into protein. Sub-terrestrial beetles, grubs and worms convert decaying vegetation into protein. Turkeys’ aptitude for fast growth and large food consumption has decreased the protein-producing bug numbers.

Eggs and larvae (protein) are the currency of the bug world. When a caterpillar is eaten, it doesn’t mature to lay eggs as a moth. Reduction of eggs and larvae is reflected in reduced bug populations. As mammals depend on protein in milk, insect and spider populations depend on protein in eggs and larvae.

Tick populations have not suffered because their protein source is warm-blooded animals. Like any insect or spider, a tick’s largest predator is other young spiders and insects eating their eggs and larvae. Reduced predator bug populations provide sanctuary for tick eggs and larvae.

History shows a balanced food web will not allow for an exponential growth in tick population. Current rates will continue until the natural predators are restored to their past levels, when ticks were virtually nonexistent. The disruption turkeys caused in the complex food web is the primary reason we have a tick-borne disease public health crisis.

Many publicly funded studies and reports were consulted to better illustrate this connection. A passive, statewide tick surveillance was initiated in 1989 to record the species, size, season, location, host and age, with a report published in 2007. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made a Wild Turkey Assessment, recording a basic timeline and reasoning behind the turkey program. Public records clearly show that where wild turkey populations had grown, tick populations increased exponentially.

In 2010, the Maine State Legislature required the Maine CDC to record all incidences of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Up-to-date wild turkey harvest records are available from MDIF&W. The help of numerous MDIF&W wildlife biologists, the Vector-Borne Disease research group led by Chuck Lubelczyk and the wisdom of the Maine State Legislature made the pieces available to put this puzzle together. Thanks given!

Master Maine Guide Glenn W. Martin II


Commit to working for justice

The 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day candlelight walk and community gathering saw over 150 people show up in Belfast to honor an American hero and recommit to taking actions for racial justice and economic equality. Our communities are hungry for moral leadership, particularly in this time of division and hate-speak fostered by the current administration. Dr. King remains a beacon of moral leadership, whose words from the 1960s remain painfully relevant today:

"We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power … this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together … you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others … the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and (we) must put (our) own house in order." — Report to SCLC staff, May 1967

The keynote speaker, Joseph Jackson, provided another example of courageous moral leadership. Mr. Jackson is coordinator of Maine Prisoner Advocacy Program (MPAC) and spoke eloquently about MPAC's commitment to ethical, positive and humane changes in Maine's prison system. MPAC is part of a growing national movement to end mass incarceration and harsh sentencing and to explore the intersection of race, justice and incarceration in the United States. Mr. Jackson spoke about his personal experiences with Maine's prison system and the journey that has led him to advocate so tirelessly for offender rights and racial justice.

The community response, the work of the many volunteers and the fact that this gathering continues to grow yearly, tells me how important Martin Luther King Day is in Belfast. Hopefully we will all make a personal commitment to work for the justice for which Dr. King gave his life.

Meredith Bruskin


Bridging the great political divide

If you enjoy the amazing variety and personal histories of the people around you, and truly care about them, then you know how hard it is to approach sex, religion and politics in any group larger than a group of one. I still shake my head in disbelief at the marriage of Mary Matalin and James Carville. I mean, how did that happen? And they've been married since 1983! I mention them as an encouragement to believe in the oft-considered-mythical possibility of bridging the great political divide.

It's easy to take in the massive amount of digital national "reporting" available to us now, and be completely unaware of the source or the truthfulness of what we are treated to hearing. We will naturally tend to listen to things we agree with, and the stories available to us are usually about people we can't possibly know, and ones we cannot verify for ourselves.

Many of us are stressing because we've been fooled into generalizing and stereotyping our near neighbors as enemies based on national hype, without knowing anything about them. Has any event you've personally witnessed ever been portrayed in the press accurately as to facts or purpose? I can tell you, rarely. Money and cowardice do a lot of damage to the truth. Liability insurance was supposed to protect the truth, but in fact, policy premium increases can be quite as intimidating as physical force.

We all cut ourselves off from a more informed perspective on any issue simply by not asking the reasons for our neighbors' views in a non-judgmental way, and by their not speaking in a non-judgmental way to us. When we sense our opinions are not valued, or outright attacked, we tend to two choices: passive withdrawal (a sort of self-suicide) or aggressive verbal attack (oral homicide).

The emotions we choose to dwell on are a dangerous wall between us. Unless we desire earnestly to see and value each precious person as an individual, sorting out public policy becomes impossible. We make a mistake in thinking we can categorize people broadly. We take our own narrowly informed opinions too seriously when we do.

I invite you to attend the upcoming Makeshift Coffee House Event. The goal of these meetings is to help people with different perspectives to talk to each other, rather than past each other. I have to say, and you know how opinionated I am, that this is the single most surprising and wonderful thing I've seen in my lifetime that could restore the real American Spirit of trust, goodwill, and honesty our nation was founded on. I would encourage anyone to spend some meditative time considering what a “happy America” would look like.

The next event is 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Freedom Grange Hall. If you'd like to hear what makes your friends and neighbors think the way they do, and you want to enter a shared reality, rather than the echo chamber of your own mind made possible by the internet, virtual reality, and biased news sources, consider attending. Come see real faces, instead of selfies and vids. You’ll be glad you did!

Patty Keyes


'Yes' on sales tax exemption

Yesterday (Jan. 16) Dawn Caswell and I (treasurer and president, respectively, of Waldo County Woodshed) had an opportunity to testify in support of LD 1755 in front of the Taxation Committee in Augusta.

LD 1755 is a bill sponsored by state Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, that would provide a sales tax exemption to groups such as the Woodshed that provide emergency heating assistance to Maine residents. Currently, such an exemption is available to organizations that provide emergency housing services, and food banks, but not for heating assistance (organizations such as WaldoCAP that administer LIHEAP funds may be exempt as an umbrella group; I’m not sure).

We are seeing an increase each winter in the demand for our services, and having this exemption would allow us to spend more of the money we raise on firewood purchases that benefit our recipients. Fundraising is always a battle and every penny counts.

Bob MacGregor, President

Waldo County Woodshed

No more handouts to Bath Iron Works

Let’s see. So far they’ve gotten roughly $20 million from Portland in the early '80s, $198 million from the Legislature and Bath in the late '90s, and $3.7 million from Bath in 2013.

Now, via LD 1781, they’re asking for another $60 million. They want us to pay for well over half of BIW’s proposed plant modernization (which would cut jobs).

General Dynamics, the parent company of BIW, is a huge defense contractor and is very profitable. They have so much cash that they’re buying back their stock. Their CEO gets $21.2 million annually. BIW, one of the most profitable of the company’s divisions, and has 10 years of work scheduled.

They do not need $60 million from you and me.

Now let’s look at Maine’s funding needs: $50 million to $60 million to fund Medicaid expansion, $30 million to $50 million to repay the federal government due to mismanagement and decertification of the Riverview Psychiatric Center, funds to battle the opioid crisis, funds for infrastructure repair and improvement (roads, bridges), and others — education, climate initiatives, etc.

We need to take care of ourselves, not let wealthy General Dynamics and BIW siphon funds from a relatively poor state. Shame on them! We need to say no to LD 1781!

Please call your legislators and urge them to vote no on LD 1781.

Or, plan to attend the hearing on this bill and make your voice heard Tuesdat, Jan. 30, at 1 p.m. in Augusta.

Deborah Capwell