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CHI St. Alexius to continue vaccine distribution as more residents become eligible
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COVID-19 vaccinations continue going strong in the state, with facilities such CHI St. Alexius Health Williston preparing for more doses to distribute to the public.

CHI Family Nurse Practitioner Camille Settelmeyer told the Williston Herald that so far distribution in the area has gone very well, with most of the high-risk population having received both doses of the Moderna vaccine. Due to the high response, CHI and other providers have been able to vaccinate more people, following the tiered guidelines from the CDC and North Dakota Department of Health.

“At first we really focused on our elderly and high-risk population, so we had a combination of people reaching out to (CHI) and we also went through our list of patients to contact them and see who wanted to come in and receive the vaccine,” Settelmeyer explained. “The state has been extremely disciplined about following the priority list, and we’ve gotten through basically all of our really at-risk population at this point.”

Latest reports show that 261,987 doses of the vaccine have been given in North Dakota, with 82,286 people receiving both doses, or about 11.6 percent of the state’s population. Settelmeyer said that CHI should be receiving more of the vaccine this week, with the expectation that those doses will be in the arms of patients within the next week or two as they move through the eligible tiers.

“We continue to really encourage people to get their vaccine, because that’s how we’re going to get out of this pandemic and start to get back to normal.” Settelmeyer said.

Settelmeyer noted that the current vaccines available are still effective against variant strains of COVID-19. Settelmeyer said it is fortunate for so many residents to have access to the vaccine, as many states have not had the distribution that North Dakota has.

“People are so lucky to be in North Dakota,” she said. “They have barely gotten in to the 1B CDC level in many states, so for people to be at the level of access that (North Dakota) has, it’s awesome. It’s just incredible.”

Settelmeyer added that individuals that have already had COVID should still get vaccinated, as it will create a stronger immunity in the body. Overall, she said, response to getting the vaccine has been positive, with many patients reaching out directly to receive it. Like many other in her field, Settelmeyer said for her the vaccine is a sign of hope for a return to normalcy.

“It’s really brought a lot of hope to the patients,” she said. “It’s the first hope many have had in a long time. It’s an amazing time to be alive. The science that’s developed around this, never have we had a single topic with so many smart people working on it. It’s just incredible what we’ve learned.”

Those interested in getting the vaccine can contact CHI St. Alexius Health Williston at 701-572-7651 or visit their website to register at www.chistalexiushealth.org/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-information.

Drought conditions spreading statewide
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Williams County, along with about 2/3 of the rest of North Dakota, is in a severe drought, and that’s expected to continue through the spring and summer.

A drought outlook released by the National Weather Service shows dry conditions across much of the region, as well as throughout the Great Plains and the Southwest. Here are three things you need to know about the current drought.

1. Warm, dry weather since October

Between Oct. 1 and March 7, the state has been warmer and much drier than normal, according to the NWS. Williams County, for example, has gotten between 25 and 50% of normal precipitation, with some even drier than that. A few small areas of the state have been cooler than normal, but most have been between 0 and 4 degrees warmer.

There is nearly no snow on the ground in the state, and the amount of water in the soil as Spring begins is much lower than normal.

Over the last several months, drought conditions have been steadily worsening week by week. In late September, for example, less than 20% of the state was in a severe drought or worse. This week, that number is 68.7%, with all of the state being at least abnormally dry.

2. Dry, warm conditions expected to continue

Forecasters don’t have strong signals pointing to above or below normal precipitation and temperature for the spring, but do have signs pointing toward above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation into the summer.

“This would lead to drought persisting or worsening,” according to the NWS situation report. “It is always possible we could have a pattern change and transition to a cooler/wetter pattern, but there is no indication of that happening.”

3. Growing problems, fire danger likely

Dry conditions mean flooding isn’t likely, but it means there might not be enough moisture to fill ponds and reservoirs.

“This lack of water on the ground will help prevent spring flooding, but may also fail to provide adequate runoff to fill wetlands, stock ponds, and larger reservoirs without normal to above normal spring rains,” the NWS warned. “Below normal soil moisture going into spring is likely to contribute to widespread worsening of drought designations early in the growing season as impacts to crops and native vegetation may quickly manifest themselves. A lack of runoff along rivers and streams can lead to lower fish reproductive success.”

The lack of snow means grass wasn’t pushed down in many places, and that means a risk of fires spreading quickly.

“Also, with lack of current snow cover over much of the area, an early and active spring fire season is expected until spring green-up occurs,” the NWS wrote. “If drought conditions persist into summer, new season grasses may cure early leading to an earlier than average summer/fall fire season.”

Great grasshopper control requires a measured approach
USDA-ARS scientist Dave Branson talks about the ins and outs of one of the West's biggest pests
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There are typically somewhere between five and 20 different species of grasshoppers present at any given location during a growing season, but not all of those are an economic concern, and getting too zealous with control measures can actually set a rancher up for an even worse go-round the next season, by eliminating natural controls that help keep the worst grasshoppers in check.

Research Entomologist Dr. Dave Branson, with USDA-ARS, talked about the importance of grasshoppers in rangeland ecosystems at the MonDak Ag Days, as well as ways to better understand when to manage the pest, and when it’s not going to make economic sense.

“Sometimes I’ll get a call saying it’s going to be a bad year. I just saw grasshoppers and it’s only March,” Branson said. “Is this going to be a disaster?”

The answer he gives surprises some. That’s because this is not actually the harbinger of disaster some might think.

“A few species hatch in late summer. They overwinter as nymphs or immatures, and they burrow down in cracks in the soil,” Branson said. “They have a bit of antifreeze, and they’re adults usually by April or May depending on how warm the spring is. But these are never really abundant enough to be an economic concern.”

Ranchers might be concerned and even dismayed to see them, Branson said. But it’s not time to panic yet.

Spring is, however, an important moment in the lifecycle of the grasshoppers that are of concern.

“This is when we would expect to start seeing little hatchlings hatching out of egg pods that are in the ground,” he said.

A lot of mortality can occur at this stage — up to 90 percent, in fact. This is the time to be watching not for adult grasshoppers, but for nymphs.

Focusing on nymphs helps you protect your rangeland before grasshoppers get the chance to make too big an impact on your available forage.

The other thing to realize is that not all grasshoppers are bad. Some of them, like the Russian thistle grasshopper, preferentially eat weeds, like kochia, while others feed birds and spiders, which, in turn, can help keep future populations of grasshoppers in check — assuming you leave enough grasshoppers for them to survive.

That has led to a technique called skip swathing. This is where the rancher would treat every other swath in the rangeland with a bee-friendly control agent that is as specific to the grasshopper species that is problematic as possible.

“In general, grasshoppers are a really important food source for many of the grass.and songbirds we have,” Branson said. “They’re also an important food source fo pheasants and grouse.”

One thing that Branson is working on with John Humphries, a new research scientist at the Sidney USDA-ARS unit, is a better early warning system on when to expect large outbreaks.

This depends on many factors, not all of which are fully understood. Cold temperatures in winter, for example, can be problematic for grasshoppers if there’s not very much snow cover, particularly for shallow-laying species.

A cool wet early summer might be bad for them as well — but timing is everything. If they haven’t yet hatched, that cool wet summer could mean lots of available forage that year, and lots of time for laying eggs the next year.

Late rains, and warmer than usual temperatures in the Fall could also lead to higher grasshopper populations the following year, depending on what happens to all the eggs laid in winter.

Sometimes, however, even though an outbreak is severe, it may still not be worth treating from an economic standpoint. That happens in cases where the outbreak is going to end rapidly anyway, due to food limitations. Or, if the outbreak has progressed beyond a certain point, most of the damage is already done, and won’t make aa difference for next year either.

These are the sorts of decisions Branson is working on with the USDA-ARS lab’s new insect pest forecaster, John Humphries.

“He has already been diving into some data on grasshoppers and looking at how some longer-term weather patterns inn particular, El Nino and La Nina, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillations are correlated with grasshopper populations,” Branson said. “ He’s a really sharp buy, so we are really excited about where our ability to predict problems is going to progress over the next while.”

Williston agrees not to remove dog during federal lawsuit
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A federal judge has ruled the request by a Williston resident to keep her dog from being taken is moot after the woman and the city reached an agreement.

Emily Holly, one of 13 dog owners who have filed a federal lawsuit saying the city’s pit bull ordinance is unconstitutional, had asked U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland to bar Williston from removing her dog. Holly claimed her 12-year-old dog, Capone, is an American Bulldog, and that a city animal control officer told her the dog “has characteristics of a pit bull,” according to the filing.

Last week, attorneys for Holly and the other plaintiffs told the court the city had agreed to hold off on enforcing a Municipal Court judge’s order to have the dog removed from the city within 10 days.

“Specifically, the City agrees to suspend enforcement of the 10-day requirement for

removal of Holly’s dog from the City’s limits and accompanying conditions until a final judgment is rendered on the merits of her claims in this litigation,” her attorneys wrote.

On Wednesday, March 3, Hovland ruled the request for a temporary injunction was moot.

Holly and a dozen other dog owners filed suit in U.S. District Court in January.

The suit seeks to have the city’s ban on pit bulls overturned as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue that there is no jutification for banning a particular breed and also raise issues with the way Williston’s ordinance has been enforced.

Among the issues highlighted is the fact that the ordinance allows police and animal control officers to charge any owner whose dog has “the characteristics of a pit bull.”

“According to a manual published by the National Animal Control Association (‘NACA’), visual identification of heritage of a mixed-breed dog is nearly impossible,” attorneys wrote in the suit. “The NACA Manual advises that AKC breed standards only provide ‘the ideal example’ of the breed, and that many dogs which do not pass the ideal standards ‘are sold as ‘pet quality’ dogs.’ The NACA manual also states that ‘Animal Control Officers don’t often come face-to-face with ideal representatives of the various breeds,’and that many dogs bred unconventionally may ‘bear little more than a faint resemblance to the breed standard.’ There are more than twenty breeds of dogs commonly misidentified as pit bulls.”

Attorneys representing Williston had not filed a response to the suit as of Monday, March 8.

COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
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Doses administered statewide: 261,987

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 156,746

Statewide rate for one dose: 21.3%

Statewide rate for two doses: 11.6%

Williams County rate for one dose: 11.2%

Williams County rate for two doses: 7.0%

Divide County rate for one dose: 22.7%

Divide County rate for two doses: 14.9%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 14.5%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 7.1%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 26.4%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 11.0%