The Senate action follows more than 100 cases of megaesophagus in dogs correlated with a specific pet food.
The ‘new normal’ of a year-round wildfire season is a problem of our own making.Violent wildfires like the ones we’re witnessing today are of our own making. They’re the accidental yet catastrophic side effects of the way we live our lives; witness Redding, California, where the rim of a flat tire scraped the asphalt on a highway, causing the sparks that started the Carr Fire. They’re the result of people moving into fire-prone areas, along with forestry practices that suppress natural fires and human-caused global warming. Speaking to the media, Gov. Jerry Brown warned that we’d better get used to this, the “new normal.”“We’ve got to re-examine the way we manage our forests, the way we build our houses, where we build them, how we build them and how much we invest in our fire protection services,” Brown said. “I don’t like to scare people, but … we’ve got tough times ahead.”The ever-rising temperatures, persistent drought and permissive development policies have been with us for over a decade, making our current reality anything but new. But this summer of firenados, megafires and cross-country smoke should give us pause. If the environmental conditions that are fanning these wildfires keep growing at the current rate, many parts of California could simply become uninhabitable in a matter of decades. Are we ready for our climate future — now?
In his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote of ecological communities, “A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.” Congress essentially agreed with Leopold when it passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, with only 12 dissenting votes in the House and none in the Senate.Today, private landowners and industry in the West are calling for Congress and the president’s administration to gut the law, weakening a system already riddled with compromises that threaten species’ continued existence.The legislative and executive branches sought remedies after the judicial branch bolstered the ESA. Congress countered with amendments, and executive agencies, especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rewrote rules for greater flexibility. For example, in 1982, amendments to the ESA initiated habitat conservation plans (HCPs), which included incidental take permits. HCPs allow landowners to craft land-use plans that may harm endangered species or habitat incidental to the project, while protecting landowners from legal penalties. This legal innovation allowed negotiation over endangered species habitat, something welcomed by those seeking to move beyond lawsuits.
Luckily, museum curators around the world have had the good sense to hold onto massive plugs of earwax pulled from dead whales over the centuries.Thanks to those plugs, scientists have now discovered a record, hidden in earwax, of how human activities have stressed out whales over the past century and a half. Stephen Trumble, a comparative physiologist at Baylor University, and his colleagues published the findings this month in Nature Communications.It turns out we’re incredibly stress-inducing—from whaling to war to climate change, our actions have been affecting whales, even if we don’t interact with them directly.In the new study, hormone profiles from 20 fin, humpback, and blue whales revealed a tight connection between whaling activities and stress from the late 19th century to the 1970s, when legislation dramatically reduced the hunting of whales.Hunting wasn’t the only source of stress that the researchers saw, either. From 1939 to 1945, elevated cortisol levels indicated that the whales’ stress levels were high, even though fewer whales were being harpooned. But there was another stressor at the time: global war. “We suspect this increase in cortisol during World War II is probably a result of noise from planes, bombs, ships, et cetera,” says Trumble.After about 1970—and especially after 1990— the researchers saw a worrying trend: Cortisol levels also increased rapidly alongside rising water temperatures. This suggests that climate change, too, is stressing the whales.
Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that USDA is investing $501 million in 60 projects to help improve health care infrastructure (PDF, 170 KB) and services in rural communities nationwide. “Creating strong and healthy communities is foundational to increasing prosperity in rural America,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to partnering with rural leaders to improve quality of life and economic development through modern and accessible health care.”Hazlett made today’s announcement as part of USDA’s commemoration of National Rural Health Day, which is held annually on the third Thursday of November to focus on the specific health care issues facing rural communities. The Department is investing in 60 projects through the Community Facilities direct loan program. These investments will expand access to health care for approximately 2 million people in 34 states.
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill to drop legal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, reopening a lengthy battle over the predator species. Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century. Since securing protection in the 1970s, wolves have bounced back in the western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.The Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the wolf’s status and is expected to declare they’ve recovered sufficiently to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.The House bill would enshrine that policy in law and restrict judicial review of listing decisions. The measure was approved, 196-180, and now goes to the Senate, where prospects are murkier.
Killer whales display personality traits similar to those of humans and chimpanzees, such as playfulness, cheerfulness and affection, according to new research.
For the first time in seven years, rural America’s population is growing. The annual U.S. Department of Agriculture report “Rural America at a Glance” found the increase — only 0.08 percent — mainly in scenic rural areas like the Rocky Mountains, more densely populated rural areas and rural communities that are within about an hour’s drive of a major city. Essentially, places where people still have access to urban amenities or can go hiking, biking, fishing or skiing.Rural Midwestern counties continue to lose people, and are getting older. Jon Cromerty, one of the USDA report’s lead authors, said these things are connected.With some rural communities, he said, folks are aging in place while younger people keep leavinga. Fewer people means fewer jobs to keep other young people around. And to top it off, there’s a shrinking labor pool as residents retire, making it difficult to attract new businesses.
n the heart of central Florida lies Silver Spring State Park—a large patchwork of forests and wetlands with a spring-fed river flowing through it. One of Florida’s first tourist attractions, the park was once known for its scenic vistas and native wildlife. But for the last 80 years, the park’s biggest draw has been its monkeys.That’s right—Silver Spring State Park is home to at least 300 rhesus macaques, a monkey native to south and southeast Asia. The animals are breeding rapidly, and a new study estimates that the monkey population will double by 2022 unless state agencies take steps to control it.The study, published October 26 in the journal Wildlife Management, claims that such an increase could put the health of the park and its visitors in serious jeopardy—because, among other problems, the monkeys carry a rare and deadly form of herpes virus called herpes B. It’s extremely, extremely rare for herpes B to spread from a monkey to a human, but when it does, it can be fatal.
Both nature and humans share blame for California’s devastating wildfires, but forest management did not play a major role, despite President Donald Trump’s claims, fire scientists say. Nature provides the dangerous winds that have whipped the fires, and human-caused climate change over the long haul is killing and drying the shrubs and trees that provide the fuel, experts say.“Natural factors and human-caused global warming effects fatally collude” in these fires, said wildfire expert Kristen Thornicke of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.Multiple reasons explain the fires’ severity, but “forest management wasn’t one of them,” University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison said.