sealPurdue Ag & Natural Resource Briefs

April 1997

Who was the 'Environmental President'?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- George Bush said he wanted to be known as the environmental president. Bill Clinton says the title will go to him. So who holds the honor so far?

"Most people guess Teddy Roosevelt," says Steve Lovejoy, a natural resources analyst and professor in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics. "They're not far wrong. Roosevelt set aside some of the more pristine and unique landscapes in the country as the basis for our National Park system. But he was more of a preservationist than an environmentalist, and he had little sense of industry and people in harmony with the environment.

"The real environmental president was Richard Milhous Nixon."

Lovejoy, a former senior policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency during Ronald Reagan's tenure, explains his reasoning this way:

Nixon presided over the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, helped set national ambient air standards in the Clean Air Act of 1970, and supported and signed the 1972 amendments to the Water Pollution Control Act (which served as the first setting of technology standards for pollution abatement). Nixon also implemented the National Environmental Policy Act in 1972, which led to the development of the process known as Environmental Impact Statements to investigate the ecological impacts of major federal actions. The Nixon administration worked for the passage of the first comprehensive pesticide legislation with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act in 1972. His administration also encouraged states to develop state agencies to work with the federal EPA (in Indiana that became the Indiana Department of Environmental Management).

"If your criteria for environmentalist includes not only protecting but improving the general environment, Nixon wins," Lovejoy says.

He says he isn't attempting to help reconstruct Nixon -- who resigned his office on Aug. 9, 1975, because of the Watergate scandal -- but simply giving credit where credit is due. "Nixon probably was less an environmentalist than a rather good politician who saw these activities as giving the people what they wanted -- positive steps toward improving the environment," Lovejoy says. "But in terms of what he accomplished rather than promised, Nixon's administration was the one that should be known as the Environmental Presidency, because he did more in protecting and enhancing the environment than any president in U.S. history."

CONTACT: Lovejoy, (765) 494-4245; e-mail,

Mites save money and environment

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- By letting mother nature have her way, Purdue University researchers have reduced the amounts of pesticides released into the environment.

European red mites hurt apple trees by destroying the photosynthetic part of the leaves, turning them bronze. This damage reduces the trees' vigor and makes the fruit smaller and poorly colored. In addition, apple yield drops for the following year. In the past, these mites were controlled solely by chemicals. However, very few pesticides are effective on the mites.

Fortunately, European red mites have a natural predator mite called Amblyseius fallacis . Unfortunately, previous research incorrectly concluded that the predator mite did not arrive in the trees until June. So growers were applying insecticides early in the season to kill other pests, not realizing that the insecticides also were killing the predator mites, according to Rick Foster, associate professor of entomology at Purdue.

Foster, Mike Stanyard, a former graduate student in entomology, and Travis Hill, a graduate student in entomology, found that the predator mite remained in the apple tree over winter, contrary to the earlier research. They also discovered that if the predator mites were killed before the trees bloom, they would not return the entire growing season and the European red mite population would go unchecked. If the predator mites weren't killed off, European red mite levels would normally remain low.

These findings showed that growers could use biological control to reduce the European red mite population. Foster advocates spraying selected insecticides, which kill other apple pests, early in the growing season so the predator mite is not harmed. The predator mite then survives to eat the European red mites, reducing the need for chemicals to control the mites.

Foster's findings have been taught to growers around Indiana through several Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service programs. "Many apple growers have changed their spraying habits based on our research," Foster says. He says combining biological control with pesticides at carefully selected times saves growers money and spares the environment.

Foster says most growers following the program have gone from two or three miticide sprays per season to zero or one application. One spray application costs $60 per acre. With more than 4,000 acres of apple trees in Indiana, Foster's findings could save growers at least $240,000 per season.

CONTACT: Foster, (765) 494-9572, e-mail,

Farmer-researcher cooperation creates new pest controls

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When Purdue University entomologist Bob O'Neil goes looking for new ways to control insect pests with farmer-friendly insect predators, he doesn't just ponder the problem in his laboratory. He talks to farmers.

"Farmers have always been inventing new technologies," O'Neil says. "Subsistence farmers invented the plow and domesticated animals and were the first to use pest-resistant plant varieties."

If farmers understand the basics of insect predation, they will come up with new biological control strategies on their own, he says.

"Once farmers know that pests have natural enemies and that those enemies can be used to control them, we will see more attempts at biological control -- more than if biological control remains the sole property of university or government specialists," O'Neil says. "Farmers experiment with the familiar to gain insight on what they don't know."

O'Neil and anthropologist Jeff Bentley of the Panamerican School of Agriculture, Honduras, illustrated the point in a joint project. Bentley taught a class on insect predation to a group of Honduran farmers. Before the course, Maria Hubalda Castro and other farmers in her area thought of ants only as pests to be stomped on or shooed away. After Bentley described the way ants hunt down and kill insect pests, she began to view them in a different light.

"She sat there thinking, 'Hmmm. Ants are predators. I know they like sugar, because I see them in my sugar bowl. Perhaps if I put the sugar on my corn, the ants will come and eat the pests.' Voila! She invents a technology," says O'Neil, "exactly like the ones we here at the university discuss in our professional journals."

Castro sprinkled sugar-water on her corn. Ants and other insect predators came for the sugar, then stayed to eat armyworms. As a result, armyworms ate fewer holes in corn leaves, and Castro's crop was healthier.

O'Neil and Luis Canas, an entomology graduate student, followed up on Castro's findings. For two years they painstakingly measured and compared damage on sugar-treated and untreated corn in test plots planted near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Their test results bore out Castro's original findings: Apply sugar, bring in predators, and reduce fall armyworm damage.

"Farmers may lack a scientific background and training, but they have a deep appreciation of agriculture," O'Neil says. The process of farmer innovation is similar to the process of experimentation that researchers follow. However, for their results to be accepted throughout the agricultural establishment, researchers must work with farmers much as they do with their professional colleagues.

"Trusting farmers to experiment means that we do not need to give them recipes, but knowledge," O'Neil says. Partnerships between farmers, researchers and Cooperative Extension Service specialists will bring results that none of those groups alone could achieve, he says.

O'Neil says he plans to promote similar cooperative efforts with farmers and home gardeners in the Midwest.

CONTACT: O'Neil, (765) 494-7207; e-mail,

Scientists paved the way for Earth Day

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- "Flower children" and "tree huggers" get a lot of the credit for starting our modern environmental movement. However, a Purdue University sociologist says scientists were promoting concern for the environment long before the first Earth Day in 1970.

"As early as 1961, scientists joined together in a call for increased research on environmental problems," says Harry Potter, associate professor of sociology. "Throughout the 1960s, a substantial number of scientists from several disciplines recognized the potential threats of air, water and land pollution."

Marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote the popular book "Silent Spring" in 1962 about the dangers of DDT and other pesticides and chemicals. "She was certainly not alone among the scientific ranks in expressing concerns about the environment, although her book has received more popular attention than the others," Potter says.

He also points to scientific reports throughout the 1960s such as "100 Problems in Environmental Health," published in 1961 and "Restoring the Quality of our Environment," a 1965 report from the Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee.

"Increasing public concern starting late in the 1960s may have been an intended outcome of these reports," Potter says. "There's actually limited evidence of public concern for the environment prior to April 22, 1970."

Potter says many sociologists consider the first Earth Day, with its broad demonstration of national concern for the environment, as the start of the environmental movement.

"Major environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society, can take some of the credit for raising public opinion on the matter," he says. "However, scientists should also be acknowledged for having the foresight to promote study and research of environmental problems, before they were popular concerns."

CONTACT: Potter, (765), 494-4712; e-mail:

Purdue Bug Bowl not for the faint-of-stomach

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a family at the 1996 Bug Bowl is available. It's called Bug Bowl '96. For b-roll from the 1996 event, contact Grady Jones (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Although they don't show up on the Food Pyramid, insects as entrees will be a featured attraction at Purdue University's annual Bug Bowl, April 18-20. That's where the vendors rattle off a menu that includes chocolate chirpy chip cookies, mealworm chow mein and a trail mix called "caterpillar crunch."

A snack that once crawled may not sound enticing, but bug cravings draw more than 10,000 people to Bug Bowl every year. A three-day celebration of insects, Bug Bowl includes everything from a cricket spitting contest to an insect petting zoo. Other events include a Big Bug Bakeoff, a human caterpillar race, insect crafts, a butterfly exhibit and, the crowd favorite, cockroach racing at "Roach Hill Downs." New this year will be a parade of Volkswagen Beetles decorated as bugs.

"The Bug Bowl is the biggest outreach event in the School of Agriculture. People come from all over the state. The news channels all cover the Bug Bowl, and we've even been on CNN," says Kathy Heinsohn, a graduate student in Purdue's entomology department. "People are very intrigued by insects, by the alien characteristics bugs have."

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Her involvement with Bug Bowl began in the spring of 1992 when she helped plan the event. "Bug Bowl is a fun approach to insects with an educational aspect. It is also a great way for entomologists to interact with many different people," she says.

Each year she demonstrates ways to cook favorite foods with insects, teaching people about insects and nutrition. She also asks audience members to step up and participate in a blind taste test of spice cakes, one with meal worms and one without.

Started as a cockroach race in 1990 as a way to stir up campus interest in entomology, Bug Bowl went public by accident. Tom Turpin, professor of entomology and Bug Bowl founder, says he never intended for the public to find out about it.

During a 1990 interview about corn research with a radio reporter, Turpin was interrupted by his secretary who walked in with the Bug Bowl cockroaches. Turpin says, "The fellow went back to WASK and the word was out. Purdue was having a cockroach race." The following Saturday, 1,500 people showed up.

Response was so great that the following year the organizers made Bug Bowl a formal event with more activities, expanding it to three days.

"Even if you don't plan to become an entomologist, you're bound to have fun and to learn something," Turpin says. "We hope that everyone comes out of the Bug Bowl a little more knowledgeable about insects."

Bug Bowl is free and open to the public. This year it begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 18, with the Big Bug Bake-Off. The full slate of activities then takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 19, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 20. The entomology department has dedicated a Web page to the event at with more information on events and times.

CONTACTS: Turpin; (765) 494- 4568; e-mail,

Heinsohn, (765) 494-8646; e-mail,

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo caption:
David Fisher and Liz Grauerholz of West Lafayette share daughter Lara's amazement at the size of a New Guinea stick insect at Purdue's sixth annual Bug Bowl in 1996. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Bug Bowl '96
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