The Problem with Pigs at Jasper-Pulaski

Posted by ardeidae on December 08, 2005

While reviewing news for Fledglinks on November 21, I ran across an article about plans for a hog factory near the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana, which was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society on November 1. The Belstra Milling Company’s 2,496-sow hog factory got the green light by Jasper County’s Board of Zoning Appeals on November 14, despite the IBA designation of the area and a 1,000-signature petition against the project. Area residents have contacted the State of Indiana Animal Health Board to request an environmental impact report be completed to assess the hazards to the area’s wildlife and natural habitat. About 20,000 cranes migrate through there every year.

On Tuesday, I received an email from one of the area residents that included an article from the Post-Tribune called “Hog farm ruffles haven in crane migration trek” authored by staff writer Jon Seidel. I went to their site and the article was the first story listed for the day. But the next day it was gone, with all the other stories that had been there. It’s a good thing the article was sent in an email because it seems that the Post-Tribune doesn’t keep archives. I emailed Seidel to find out if this article will be available again, but he responded saying it might be a couple of weeks. I’ll link to it if it turns up.

It’s an excellent piece, and Seidel included some quotes from the involved parties that made this whole hog factory issue a little disturbing. Belstra has the support of the Department of Natural Resources, and the DNR’s Jim Bergens, the property manager of the Jasper-Pulaski area, is in charge of the welfare of the birds. Bergens has a degree in Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University in California. Didn’t sound too bad, but then I read this:

The DNR recently told Bergens not to speak to reporters about the Belstra development. However, that order came after he spoke to the Post-Tribune last week.

Bergens said his opinions on the Belstra matter are based strictly on his background knowledge of the cranes and the Jasper County area. He said he has done no research on what the Belstra farm might do to the area.

“No direct research,” Bergens said.

Why not talk to reporters? Is the DNR afraid something is going to come to light? Maybe they’re concerned that Bergens will speak the truth. And if there hasn’t been any “direct” research done, how can Bergens ensure that no harm comes to the visiting cranes? Things like this scare me. Something that could affect such and important area is being allowed to continue without a formal environmental impact report to determine what impact it could have on the surrounding area. If the EIR is done in a credible manner and shows there will be no harm, then the project should be allowed to continue. If the project goes on without a proper assessment and mitigation plan, there could be irreparable damage.

Recently, Bergens said, endangered whooping cranes have joined the migration path. Some of them have been found in Jasper County as recently as mid-November. They are part of a “nonessential experimental” project, Bergens said.

“If something were to happen to these birds,” Bergens said about the whooping cranes, “they’re not essential to the actual wild population.”

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is on the federal endangered list. As of a year ago, there were a total of 468, with 213 in the wild. Their numbers are slowly climbing, but with such a small population size, no bird should be considered “not essential”.

The amount of waste created by 2,496 pigs on a daily basis can add up quickly. A quick search turned up a study done on the Ontario Pork Industry. “A 2400 sow unit is projected to produce 90 litres/day/sow including offspring. This amounts to 14.4 to 17 million gallons of waste per year.” That sounds like a lot to deal with. According to Belstra’s Vice President, Malcolm DeKryger, the manure produced by the farm will be injected six to eight inches under the soil and they plan on using GPS to make sure the waste doesn’t go where it won’t cause any damage. What they fail to mention is the kinds of bacteria and drugs will be in this manure. I received an second email from another citizen who covers all the sewage dangers on her blog; more on that later.

Bergens said he is not concerned about the cranes eating the manure when they probe into the soil with their beaks for food. Most of them are eating waste grain off fields that people have already tampered with, Bergens said.

“There’s fertilizer, there’s all kinds of other things in the soil,” Bergens said. “When they’re feeding on waste grain, they’re probably not probing the soil at all.”

Just because other sources of food might not be ideal, it doesn’t make the waste produced by the hog factory any less harmful. And the birds may not be probing the soil for food, but they’ll be walking in it.

Bergens said his two-decades worth of background knowledge on the birds is enough to help him come to these conclusions.

“I’ve watched Jasper County develop,” Bergens said. “I’ve watched the Sandhill crane population develop.”

Also, he said, he made no absolute promises about the safety of the birds to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

It’s probably a good thing he didn’t make any promises since he did “no direct research”. And as watching the crane population develop, you’d think he’d be more concerned with the possible dangers.

I hope this article becomes available once again. It really is worth reading as a whole. If you want to read it, email me and I’ll forward it to you. The way this whole project is being allowed to progress is really disconcerting. Allowing it to go through without any sort of environmental impact assessment seems like a really bad idea. Who knows, maybe Belstra and Bergens are correct and nothing will happen. But what if they’re wrong? There’s too much at stake to not do the research.

As I mentioned earlier, I received emails from two of the residents that live near the developing hog factory. They have a lot of insight to provide…in the next post.


Note: The wildlife area in this article was previously referred to as “Jasper/Pulaski”, but the formal name is actually “Jasper-Pulaski”. The article has been updated to reflect this.


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