Food for Songbirds

Food for Songbirds

The city’s gypsy-moth eradication program has been put on hold for fear it would disrupt the eating habits of migratory songbirds. During Saturday’s public hearing at City Hall, members of the City Council heard from a scientist who said that spaying a bacterium called “Bacillus thuringiensis” — known as B.t. — would have a detrimental effect on the food chain.

“It will cut down on the food supply of certain populations of birds,” said Michael Fry, director of pesticides and birds for the American Bird Conservancy. “It’s a matter of rolling the dice in some respects.”

Several local birdwatchers expressed concern that Alexandria’s reputation as a premier birdwatching location might be damaged if the city went ahead with its plans to spray B.t. They said that they were especially concerned about reducing the number of warblers at Monticello Park on Beverly Drive, which is known locally as a “hotspot” during the spring when the birds pass through the area.

“Warblers will suffer if they arrive here and there is nothing available to eat,” said Paula Sullivan, a former member of the city’s Urban Forestry Steering Committee.

The council unanimously voted for a motion to request that city staff work bring a new set of recommendations next month.


Up in Smoke

The new year proves to be an extended celebration of the Jamestown settlement, but at least one major component of its survival may be going up in smoke: tobacco. According to a presentation from the city’s lobbyist, the City Council’s effort to reduce smoking in public is gaining traction in Richmond.

“Support to significantly limit smoking in public is growing in the General Assembly, and the number of bills related to this issue continues to increase,” said Legislative Director Bernard Caton. “Our strategy is to support the prohibition bills but oppose any bills that would allow smoking to continue if signs indicating this are posted.”

Caton said that he is working to build support for bills by Del. Harvey Morgan (D-98), Del. Vincent Callahan (R-34), Del. Glenn Oder (R-94), Robert Bell (R-58) and Robert Bell (D-58) that would curtail smoking in public. He’s also working against a bill by Del. Morgan Griffith (R-8) that would allow smoking in restaurants that conspicuously place “smoking permitted” signs. Although the powerful tobacco lobby is opposing the measures, members of the Alexandria City Council expressed their hope during a Tuesday night meeting that the anti-smoking efforts would be successful.

“It’s not only for the patrons of the restaurants,” said Councilman Ludwig Gaines. “It’s also for the people who work in the restaurants, who are an unheard minority.”


Czar or Czarina?

A few hours before President George W. Bush shocked environmentalists by admitting that the United States should work against “the serious challenge of global climate change,” members of the City Council were reviewing the city’s efforts to be good environmental stewards. During a discussion of the city’s “action plan” to promote recycling and reduce pollution, Councilwoman Del Pepper said that she thought Alexandria wasn’t getting enough publicity for its efforts — especially with Arlington’s environmental efforts receiving so much press.

“You’d think they invented sliced bread or the wheel,” said Pepper.

The City Council voted Tuesday to spend $15,000 to create the action plan, an effort that would summarize the city’s existing environmental programs and research practices in other jurisdictions. Pepper also suggested that the City Hall should have a staff position dedicated to pushing the envelope on green issues.

“I’d like to see a czar in charge of all of this,” she said.

Richard Baier, director of the city’s environmental services, quickly chimed in to say that the role should be gender neutral.

“We could have a czar or a czarina,” he said.