top of page

OneHealth Student Training in a Contaminated Landscape

by Dr. Larkin Powell, Director and Professor

School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska

Wachiska Program and General Meeting — Thursday, February 8, 7:00 p.m., Unitarian Church, 6300 A Street, and also via YouTube link:


Significant population declines of diverse bird species in the U.S. and Europe have been linked to neonicotinoid pesticides in the environment. “Neonics” are heavily used in crop, aquaculture, forestry, and livestock production. While these pesticides have the potential to kill some animals acutely when treated crop seeds are ingested, larger long-term impacts can occur at the population level due to direct exposure to non-lethal levels of pesticide or indirectly through decreased insect prey availability. Thus, effects of neonics have the potential to ripple through food webs to diverse wildlife including amphibians, birds, and small mammals.


Our region is home to a localized incident with heavy contamination of soil and water by mixed pesticides (neonics and diverse fungicides). The AltEn biofuels plant near Mead, Nebraska, began generating ethanol through recycling waste crop seed products treated with a number of pesticides including neonics and fungicides within the last decade. Wastewater, sludge, and solid byproduct (‘wet cake’) produced by the plant were stockpiled near the facility and applied to farm fields as soil nutrient supplements in the surrounding community until 2020. Stockpiles of the material were left exposed, and over time dust and storm runoff redistributed the pesticide residues in the local area leading to potential exposure to people, domestic animals, and wildlife.


The University of Nebraska created a program to monitor the broad consequences of the contamination across soil, water, food webs, wildlife populations, and humans. Within this program, Dr. Judy Wu Smart and Dr. Liz VanWormer created an opportunity for student training in OneHealth research methods. OneHealth emphasizes linkages among human, animal, plant, and ecosystem health. For the past three summers, students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources have monitored birds and amphibians in the landscape contaminated near the AltEn biofuels plant. I have supported work to investigate possible impacts on red-winged blackbirds.


This presentation will provide some background on the contamination event and the planning that led to the student training and monitoring program. I will describe the methods our team has used to sample eggs and feathers of red-winged blackbirds with images and video, so you can experience a morning of research with our team! We have some preliminary results on a portion of our sample, and I will describe the trends that we see in our results.


Larkin Powell grew up in southern Iowa and has worked the last 22 years as a wildlife professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska. In August of 2023, Dr. Powell began serving as Director for the School. In his leisure time, he plays the piano and enjoys photography, angling, and poetry.


Join Wachiska on Thursday, February 8, at 7:00 p.m. at Lincoln’s Unitarian Church, 6300 A Street, to learn more about this grave environmental concern in our region. This free, public, in-person talk will also be live-streamed on YouTube


No registration is needed. This program can also be viewed at a later time. Check Wachiska’s website for links to past programs. 

Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center January Programs


Great Backyard Bird Count Bird Outing

Friday, February 16, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.


Join an experienced birder and fellow birders for an outing along the trails counting species and numbers of birds seen for the GBBC. Free admission, registration preferred.


Great Backyard Bird Count Open House

Sunday, February 18, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.


Celebrate birds and the new year with live music, homemade treats, and bird-themed crafts throughout the afternoon. Fun for the whole family and for our feathered friends. Free admission.


Registration information on these and other programs can be found on our website, Questions to 402-797-2301;

Bird EnCOUNTer 2024

by Patty Spitzer


Join Wachiska on Saturday, February 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Gere Library, 56th Street and Normal Boulevard, for our annual Bird EnCOUNTer event.


This year we are delighted to collaborate with Spring Creek Prairie to bring in new activities and celebrate birds during the worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count February 16-19. Raptor Conservation Alliance will again regale us with live birds and their stories. There will be Indigenous storytelling, live music, and numerous hands-on activities such as making pine-cone bird feeders, bird banding, “build a bird,” and much more.


Call or email your contact information to Arlys in the Wachiska office, 402-486-4846, or if you are interested in volunteering. There is no admission fee

Anchor 1
Anchor 2
bottom of page