Research Update: Good for the goose...Bad for the environment?

Salinity problems My 9-hole course has many areas with high salinity. Please recommend trees that can survive these conditions. Russian olives make it in some of the areas, but that's about it. We have tried various species of willow, poplar, pine, green ash and crabapple, all without success. Is there some other strategy such as creating a large basin with an impermeable membrane into which we could plant trees? This doesn't sound too practical, but what do you think?-North Dakota (via the internet)

I agree-it doesn't sound too practical. You have a two-fold adaptability problem because many of the best performers in saline conditions do not possess the hardiness necessary to grow in North Dakota (which is USDA Zone 3 or 4, depending on your location). Tamarix ramosissima (references sometimes list this species as T. pentandra) is hardy to Zone 2 and is well-adapted to saline soils, so this is one option you can use in addition to Russian olive. Tamarix can be more shrubby than tree-like and is not the most ornamental plant around, but you're looking for survivors, and Tamarix is definitely a survivor.

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You really ought to determine the reason for the high salinity and address the problem at its source. Long-term solutions to salinity problems usually lie with careful irrigation and drainage management. Leaching of soil salts by using excess irrigation water is the main tool for these situations, though you obviously must determine the quality of your water source as well. If it's your water that's the source of the salt, then you should use a better-quality water source or find a way to better manage the existing water.

Whether you use salty irrigation water (such as effluent) or the soil itself is naturally saline, you must ensure adequate drainage so that you can apply enough water to leach salts without creating saturated conditions. Make sure you don't have soil layers that will prevent the leachate from percolating downward, or you could end up with an even worse problem. In such difficult cases, you have to break up the impermeable layer or install drain tiling to eliminate the saturation. However, neither strategy is cheap or easy, and the latter option produces salty drainage or "tail" water, which may be a problem to dispose of, depending on exactly what's in the water.

As you can see, these can be complicated matters. You definitely could use the services of a consultant with expertise in salinity problems. Such a person can help you find ways to solve your problem rather than simply living with it, which is all you are doing by attempting to grow salt-tolerant species. Even that won't work indefinitely if the salinity increases. Contact soil laboratories in your area, and see if they can help.

Synthetic hydraulic oil Is synthetic biodegradable hydraulic oil worth the cost?-Georgia

That's a value judgment, and it depends on to what you're comparing it. There's no question that the new synthetic hydraulic oils have outstanding performance characteristics. One type, ester-based synthetic oil, also has high biodegradability-almost as high as vegetable-based oils. Thus, it offers high performance with relatively low potential for environmental contamination

In many operations, biodegradability may not be a major concern. However, for turf equipment, this is undoubtedly a valuable characteristic. Small spills and leaks of synthetic ester-based oil, though they may still kill some turf (especially if the oil is hot), should not create persistent long-term soil contamination. The same can be said for vegetable-based hydraulic oils, though these products tend to have some drawbacks that synthetics do not.

Other potential benefits of synthetics include less wear and tear on equipment, greater oil longevity and better overall performance, especially in extreme temperatures. Are these benefits worth the higher cost? That depends. How satisfied are you with the performance of your current hydraulic oil ? How leaky is your equipment? How flexible is your budget? Unfortunately, synthetic oils can cost about 50 percent more than vegetable-based oils, which are themselves two to three times as expensive as conventional petroleum-based oils. Thus, you pay a substantial premium for the qualities that synthetics offer.

Various protective measures have afforded some migratory waterfowl a chance to recoup their numbers. However, wetland habitat is shrinking. The result is that more birds are using less wetlands, creating higher population densities. This is causing some concern with researchers who fear this situation could lead not only to more epidemics of avian diseases but also could damage aquatic ecosystems by overwhelming their ability to absorb nutrients added from bird excretions.

To better understand this problem, researchers from Cornell University and the University of Madison-Wisconsin estimated how much waste geese were depositing in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (near Albuquerque, N.M.). This refuge includes 1,200 acres of wetlands that provide a winter home to about 45,000 geese. Adjacent to the wetlands are alfalfa and corn fields (planted specifically for the birds). The researchers discovered that the geese spent most of their time in just one section of the wetlands (where they roosted) and estimated that they deposited around 40 percent (20,000 pounds) of the nitrogen and 75 percent (2,400 pounds) of the phosphorus that entered this wetland during the study. The study lasted one winter.

While the researchers don't think that this amount poses an immediate threat to the wetland, it is of concern because waterfowl populations still are increasing at many wetland sites. Should bird populations begin to damage wetlands habitat, it would create a difficult management problem. Geese and other waterfowl are notoriously difficult to disperse, and creating additional wetlands to accommodate the increasing bird populations would mean obtaining increasingly scarce water resources.

This type of situation should sound familiar to superintendents. Many golf courses attract geese due to their ponds and large swaths of edible turf. Considering the amount of nutrients that geese can deposit into a body of water, it's possible that they could negatively impact pond-water quality-not that superintendents need more reasons to keep geese away.

If you think that sound science is governing the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), think again. The process is threatening to eliminate some of the most important products on which grounds managers rely. And this could occur, not because these products pose an unreasonable risk, but because EPA is not giving industry enough time to develop the data FQPA requires (according to EPA's interpretations). In many cases, EPA will not even define the data it needs from manufacturers to make decisions about chemicals. Nevertheless, without such data, EPA is threatening to use overly conservative default assumptions in place of hard data. This almost certainly would result in numerous specialty-pesticide cancellations.

The pesticide industry supports the goals of FQPA and is willing to provide the data necessary to reassess product registrations in a reasonable amount of time. However, FQPA and the EPA are putting the industry in the position of having to supply this information in impossibly short time frames. Granted, EPA did not create the timelines, which were part of the FQPA legislation passed by Congress. However, the last significant pesticide-related legislation that Congress enacted before FQPA-FIFRA 88-is still many years away from full implementation by EPA (and thus in violation of its time schedule as legislated by congress). By contrast, consider that EPA may start canceling registrations through FQPA as early as next year.

Is EPA compelled to be any more rigid with FQPA than it was with FIFRA 88? Of course not. Why the difference with FQPA? It starts with the Clinton Administration and the political appointees who run EPA. FQPA and the EPA have become political tools, and that's why grounds-care operators need to get involved. Grassroots activity can help counter the pressure applied by anti-pesticide activists.

Don't feel like your opinion doesn't matter. Members of Congress record every letter, phone call, e-mail or other communication they receive, and it's more important than ever to be heard. Your voice counts! Silence only suggests to politicians that the issue is not important to you, so write your representative. Outline, in personal, everyday terms, the way your livelihood-as well as that of the people who work for you-would be impacted if EPA eliminated your chemical tools. Tell your Congressman you want EPA to use fair implementation of FQPA based on sound science and reasonable deadlines. When manufacturers complain to Congress of unfair treatment, it has a much greater impact if legislators know that the voters who put them there care about the issue. Don't wait-once chemicals are lost, it's a sure bet we'll never get them back.

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