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The QueQue

The QueQue: Heath department ordered to assist suffering inmates, Invasive species get a pass in Texas budget

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Our guard started dropping after the attacks of 9/11. "When 9/11 hit they broke a big branch of that APHIS off [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture] and put them in the airports to try and keep people from smuggling dangerous stuff into the country," Miller said. Then when Texas lawmakers slashed state budgets in 2011, the Department of Agriculture took a whopping 40 percent blow. One of many positions eliminated in response was the coordinator of the Invasive Species Coordinating Committee. While multiple surveys of fields for dangerous crop pests funded by APHIS had been the norm in years' past, there was only one survey approved by the Texas Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Committee last year.

Florida spends more than $20 million annually managing all of its aquatic invasive species; Texas budgeted less than $2 million for similar work in 2011 and enters 2012 with less than $1 million, according to Earl Chilton, director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program. "We've got hydrilla in 100 water bodies right now, giant salvinia in 19 water bodies, and water hyacinth is typically found in 35 water bodies on an annual basis," Chilton said. Worse than that, zebra mussels recently entered Lake Texoma. And while recent DNA sampling failed to turn up anything in nearby Lake Lavon, if they cross that line they would be free to infest the entire Trinity River Basin, Chilton said. Controlling established zebra mussel populations in the Great Lakes is measured in the billions of dollars.

Miller is fearful of another invader headed toward Texas from Florida: the cactus moth that chews up and spits out our beloved paddled prickly pear. "If we find these pests when there's just a few of them, we can exterminate them," Miller said. "But after that, once you get a big population in a big geographic area, it's just a new pest you have to deal with."

Considering the megadrought of 2011 forced the importation of large quantities of hay from out of state — some of which from areas that Miller knows to harbor invasives Texas does not want — it's not a time to shrink.

Teaching to the (fundamentalist) test in Texas

While evolution's covered in Texas classrooms, it's not covered very well, according to a new review of Texas' education science standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. In a recent report, Fordham gave Texas a "C" on its science curriculum, saying our standards only "pay lip service" to critical content. Though high school biology courses handle the subject "straightforwardly," the topic's all but ignored from kindergarten through fifth grade. And when evolution briefly pops up in seventh grade, it's misinterpreted. Middle schoolers learn about the famous Galapagos finch studies, "giving the impression that the Darwinian paradigm is being presented. Unfortunately, it's not," the report states. Instead, the lesson's drawn from studies by biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant, made famous by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. And these are key points that Creationists often distort to argue that long-term Darwinian "macroevolution" doesn't occur — that only divinely guided "microevolution" does.

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