When we think about wildlife, we think about elk, and grizzley bears, and cutthroat trout. We don’t think about grasshoppers and other insects. But farmers think about them alot and so do entomologists like Dr. Jeff Lockwood who has studied bugs in history. From the locusts who once devoured the west’s vegetation to insects used in warfare. Wyoming Chronicle host Geoff O’Gara visits with Dr. Lockwood, an entomologist at the University of Wyoming who studies insects like locusts and grasshoppers and has written several books, including “Prarie Soul” and “Locust”. In 2002, Jeffrey Lockwood won the Pushcart Prize, which honors the best work from small presses, for an essay in his collection Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving.
With our low cost, dependable food supply in the United States, it may be hard to imagine a time when clouds of locusts would blot out the sun descending on farmers fields and wiping out struggling frontier communities back in the 1870s. These days, the only place you will find the Rocky Mountain Locust is encased in a glacier. That is where scientists and writer Jeff Lockwoood found the extinct species, in the Knifepoint Glacier in the Wind River Mountains. And it is a murder mystery he unravels in his fine book “Locust”. More recently, he’s tackled the use of insects in warfare from the swarms of bees hurled back and forth by armies centuries ago to the very real threat of bioterrorism which would destroy agriculture or spread disease today.
Dr. Lockwood is an entomologist, a insect scientist, but also an etymologist, a student of words. He shifted from scientific research and instruction at the University of Wyoming to working in the philosophy department and the university’s graduate program in creative writing. Lockwood, who can write about a locust like Proust wrote about a Madeleine is one of the reasons that the relatively new MFA program is attracting national attention.
Chronicle also take a look at bugs from a farmer’s perspective. Farmers have been trying for ages to grow crops that we like to eat but bugs don’t. That’s one of the goals in applying genetic engineering to plants along with bigger fruits and vegetables that require less work to produce. And whether you know it or not, sugar beets grown in Wyoming are mostly grown from genetically engineered seeds. Opponents are trying to change that. Producer Deb Hammons investigates the dispute between organic farmers along with environmental groups and the farmers using the genetically engineered sugar beet seeds. This dispute has reached the courts in a lawsuite filed by the organic farmers and environmental groups because they have claimed that the genetically engineered seeds could contaminate their own sugar beet crops. The courts ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce an environmental impact statement which the agency said they would not be able to complete until 2012.