Gray Wolf Protection Lifted: Not By Scientific Review

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service formally lifted federal protection for more than 1,300 Gray Wolves in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah earlier this month. This effectively opens hunting season on the wolves that ranchers say have taken a heavy toll on their livestock in the past two decades. The Gray Wolf has become the first animal ever to be taken off the endangered species list through legislation under a measure attached to a U.S. budget deal, rather than by traditional scientific review.

Many local cattle ranchers are applauding the removal of the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list. Ron Aasheim, spokesman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said his state’s wolf population has grown to the point where it can sustain hunting. The states of Montana and Idaho are planning to hold public wolf hunts in the upcoming fall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that wolves killed 8,100 adult cattle and calves across the country last year. The total value of the cattle lost was $3.6 million, making up for only 4 percent of all cattle lost last year. Far more cattle is lost every year due to illness or weather. Many ranchers believe that the mere presence of wolves puts cattle under so much stress that they don’t breed or put on weight properly.

Minnesota’s staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, Collette Adkins Giese, believes delisting the wolves is premature without a nationwide recovery plan. She believes wolves in the western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies should remain protected to help repopulate the wolf populations in the Northeast and Northwest regions. Ranchers losses could be returned through state compensation or non-lethal options such as guard animals, fencing, and frequent checking. However, the Gray Wolves’ federal protection has been lifted and they are now open game for hunting.

Photo Source: fws.gov   

Boy Plants One Million Trees

At only nine years old, Felix Finkbeiner created a program to plant one million trees in Germany. It all started during a presentation Felix gave at his school about planting trees and people listened.

Inspired by the example of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist who has organized the planting of 30 million trees. Felix had the idea to plant one million trees in every country he could. Three years later, Felix has created an organization called Plant for the Planet and is doing work in 70 countries. Within the same time period, Germany has planted an additional one million trees under his program.

Success to Felix’s Plant for the Planet can be greatly attributed to the news media’s exposure early on leading to awareness and numerous donations. Also, his family has a strong environmental perspective. Felix’s father has his own conservation group as well.

Felix is often invited to speak at many news conferences around the world and can be away from home for weeks. His goal is to plant 212,000,000 trees worldwide under Plant for the Planet. He has only planted one million trees thus far, but has 1.4 million trees pledged to be planted worldwide very soon.

Photo Source: milliontrees.miamidade.gov

March of the Leatherback Turtle

Researchers studying Leatherback Turtles over the course of five years have discovered the epic journeys taken by a group of Leatherback Turtles in the South Atlantic, with astonishing results. Satellite tracking has revealed three clear migratory routes, including one that is 4,699 miles long across the South Atlantic from Africa to South America. Many of the 25 females studied traveled large distances; moving their breeding colonies from Gabon to feeding grounds in the southwest and southeast Atlantic and off the coast of Central Africa. The turtles were discovered to stay in the areas for 2-5 years afterward or long enough to build up the necessary reserves to reproduce and return to Gabon. This study has allowed tremendous insight into the little-known migratory behaviors of the Leatherback Turtle.

The Leatherback Turtle is named for its unique shell that is composed of a thin layer of tough rubbery skin, which has been reinforced by thousands of tiny bone plates that gives its “leathery” appearance. The Leatherback is the only sea turtle that does not have a hard shell. Its large flippers are without claws and its head is deeply notched with two upper jaw cusps. The Leatherback has very delicate and scissor-like jaws capable of being damaged by anything other than a diet consisting of soft bodied animals, like the jellyfish. They can be anywhere between four to six feet in length and weigh between 660 to 1100 pounds. The largest Leatherback ever recorded measured in at ten feet and weighed a massive 2,019 pounds. The Leatherback is the largest of the sea turtles, travels the furthest, dives the deepest to depths of 4,200 feet where it can stay down for 85 minutes, and ventures into the coldest waters.

Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of all reptile species, and possibly of any vertebrate. They are often found in both the tropic and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Adult Leatherbacks have been known to swim as far north as Canada and Norway and as far south as New Zealand and South America. Unlike most reptiles, Leatherbacks are able to maintain their warm body temperatures in cold waters by using adaptations to both generate and retain body heat, including their large body size, alterations in swimming activity and blood flow, and their thick layer of body fat.

Sadly, the Leatherback Turtle is listed as an endangered species under the critically endangered section of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is believed that only one in a thousand Leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. The greatest known threat to the Leatherback Turtle is from incidental take in by commercial fisheries, and marine pollution such as balloons and plastic bags, which are often mistaken for jellyfish and consumed by the turtles. Their lifespan is unknown, but many Leatherback meet an early end due to human activity.

Photo Source: nasadaacs.eos.nasa.gov, adfg.alaska.gov

Invasion of the ‘Zombie’ Ant

Researchers at Penn State University have discovered a startling fungus among the Tropical Carpenter Ant community. Infection by this new strand of parasitic fungus has been found to dramatically change the behavior of the Carpenter Ant, causing an ant to become zombie-like and die in a spot in which the fungus has optimal reproduction conditions.   

Using transmission-electron and light microscopes the research team was able to look inside an infected ant to determine what effects the fungus was having. They found that the fungus fills the ant’s body and head, eventually causing muscle atrophy and forcing muscle fibers to spread apart. It was found that the fungus effects the ant’s central nervous system as well.

Upon observation in the wild, researchers noticed that normal worker ants rarely leave their work trail, whereas ants infected with the fungus or “zombie” ants will walk in a random manner and will be unable to find their way home. Infected ants were also found to suffer from convulsions which cause them to fall from the canopy to the ground and be unable to find their way back up to the canopy again. This creates the perfect conditions for their fungus to thrive at about 9 to 10 inches above the soil where temperatures are cooler.

The strangest finding by the research team was found during solar noon, when the sun is at its highest temperature. The fungus began to control and synchronize individual ant behavior. Infected ants would crawl to the underside of a nearby leaf and bite into its main vein, causing the ants to break their jaws and remain stuck upside down from the leaf even after death. A few days later the fungus will grow through the ant’s head in a icicle like shape and release spores to be picked up by another wandering ant. 

Lead researcher David P. Hughes said, “The fungus attacks the ants on two fronts: first by using the ant as a walking food source, and second by damaging muscle and the ant’s central nervous system.” This results in an ant placing itself in the perfect conditions for fungal growth and reproduction. Future research is currently being conducted to determine how this newly found fungus can be used to control pest insects in both homes and farms.

Photo Source: ars.usda.gov

3 Bills in the House: Drill, Baby, Drill!

This week, the House could vote on three bills to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the United States. Despite the fact Congress has done very little to actually make the process of drilling safer. Here is the rundown of the three bills on Big Oil’s wish list.

Let’s start with the most outlandish bill of all, H.R. 1231. This bill will ensure that oil drilling occurs off the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina, off the coast of Southern California, in the Arctic Ocean, and Bristol Bay. Mandating that at least half of the currently unleased areas in each region be put up for lease sales each and every time the government puts the outer continental shelf territory up for lease which would effectively open up all the acreage for drilling over the course of time. Under this bill, neither the current nor future administration could decide to limit drilling off the coast of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, Southern California or Alaska because of economic or environmental concerns.

The second bill, H.R 1230 mandates that the government conduct three lease sales within the next year. The sales would occur for oil and gas drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, and off the coast of Virginia. Removing restrictions on the areas the current administration decided not to release after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This would short cut any environmental review before a sale, particularly, a court’s review of the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The third bill, H.R. 1229 sets a time limit of 30 days for reviewing drilling permit applications and will grant automatic approvals if no action has been taken within 60 days. This would make environmental reviews of oil and gas drilling weaker than it was before the Gulf disaster.

photo source: alaska.boemre.gov

The Call for Deer Fencing

Many heavily populated Deer areas across the country are calling for more fencing. Not only to protect personal gardens, but to benefit natural wildlife too. It has been found that surprisingly, Deer have a major environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem in which we live. Not only do they limit one’s ability to grow a beautiful garden. But, can damage wildflower populations and kill the various blooms that bees and other natural pollinators need for survival.

So, what are the benefits of deciding to Deer proof a garden? From a personal standpoint you will be able to grow whatever plant or flower your heart desires. Without, having to worry about Bambi munching on your prized garden. Be prepared to sit back and enjoy the numerous springtime transformations and colors.

Your insect friends will be thanking you too. Pollinators rely on flowers blooming in the Spring. Where flowers grow populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will thrive. Adding unmatched natural beauty to your garden. In recent years, the populations of both the bumblebee and some butterflies have been on a staggering decline. Deer proofing your garden may aid in the help to restore their populations.

Worried about other natural wildlife being effected by Deer Fencing? If put up correctly, fencing should do no harm to the surrounding wildlife. Birds should be able to fly freely and snack on your gardens seeds and thriving insect populations. Squirrels should still be able to make their way unharmed to forage. With enough room left at the bottom of a fence, smaller animals should be able to slip in and out of your fence enclosures. 

As the past has indicated, that when we as humans impose on the environment the results are often negative or damaging. However, we play a large role in the ecosystems that surround our daily lives. By carefully keeping the Deer population out of our gardens, we are creating a space for other members of nature to thrive. As a natural grazer, the Deer population you are keeping out should have no problem finding other wild plant food sources to consume. Indicating, that Deer fencing can be pro-environmentally friendly for all parts of nature.

Photo Source: wdfw.wa.gov

Nepal’s Rhino Census 2011 Shows Positive Results

Within the past two years, Nepal’s Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros population has increased by 20 percent. This is very good news for a species poached for many reasons. The last time the rhino census was conducted in 2008, there were only 99 living Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros in Nepal. Now, the census shows that there are 534 living in the Nepal region. Of that total, 503 rhinos were found in Chitwan National Park, 24 in Bardia National Park, and 7 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. The population numbers are a promising increase from the dismal and alarming population numbers reported in 2008.

The positive result of the National Rhino Census 2011, is an indication of the successful conservation efforts among the Government of Nepal in partnership with various conservation groups. It is a prime example of many people and communities of Napal coming together for the conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros. Based on the encouraging results, their next goal is to create a thriving rhino population in the Terai Arc Landscape of Napal.  

Today, rhinos are threatened by habitat loss and poaching. It is increasingly rare to see a rhino outside of a national park, reserve, or zoo. The greatest threat to the rhino is the worldwide demand for its horn. Which is commonly used in traditional Asian medicine for treating a variety of ailments. The rhino horn is banned under the international trade law of CITES or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. Habitat loss is a large concern for the rhino, especially in south-east Asia and India, as forests are being destroyed and human populations are on the rise.

In size, the One-Horned Rhinoceros is equal to the African White Rhino; together they are the largest of all rhino species. A fully grown male is larger than a female and weighs in anywhere between 4,900 to 6,600 pounds. Which makes the One-Horned Rhinoceros the fourth largest land animal on the planet. Its single horn is often used for self-defense, guiding their young, digging, and attracting mates. The horn can grow anywhere between 9.8 to 22.5 inches in length.

Rhinos are mostly solitary creatures, with the exception of mothers, calves, and breeding pairs. However, rhinos can be commonly found in groups among bathing areas. Rhinos are mostly active at night and in the early morning. They spend most of their afternoons in lakes, rivers, ponds, and puddles to beat the heat. To the surprise of many, the rhino is actually quite a good swimmer. 

Rhinos have few natural enemies in the wild due to their massive size. Their diet mostly consists of entirely grasses, but they have been known to eat leaves, shrub branches, fruits, and submerged or floating aquatic plants. They have an excellent sense of hearing and smell, but relatively poor eyesight. A common misconception among humans is that the rhino is a rather slow land animal. Rhinos can run up to speeds of 34 miles per hour for short periods of time.

The social life of the rhinoceros comes in a variety of social groupings. Males are often found solitary on their home range, except when mating or fighting. Females are often solitary unless they have a calve with them. Mothers will often stay close to their calve for up to four years after birth, or until a newborn calf arrives. Sub-adult males can often be found in groups of two or three among the home range of a dominant male. Young females are often solitary in nature. Rhinos have a wide range and variety of vocalizations too. The ten distinct vocalizations of rhinos are honking, snorting, bleating, roaring, squeak-panting, moo-gruting, shrieking, groaning, rumbling, and finally humphing.

Photo credit: gallery.nen.gov.uk

New Trends in Smart Grid Technology

New trends are emerging in the shaping of smart grid technology. The implementation of smart grids across the country is rather complex. However, the main goal is to make an energy grid intelligent so that consumers are using the grid’s produced electricity in the most efficient manner possible. The new trends are seen in the overall automation of the distribution of electricity, data analysis, demand response, carbon management, home energy management, and the implementation of electric vehicles to the grid.

The automation of the distribution of electricity involves the movement of electricity from substations to consumers. This form of technology will sense, report, and control the distribution of electricity. The automation will include smaller power sources such as renewable energy projects and solar panels being used more effectively within the grid. The new distribution will greatly reduce the costs of powering a given system, and increase reliability. For individual consumers, automation will reduce overall energy consumption and system losses. Which will mean an overall reduction in energy bills.

Data analysis is used as an important way for energy companies to collect, sort out, understand, and track all the information collected by the smart grid. This new data will make it easier for energy companies to provide services for its consumers and track peak demand.

The implementation of the demand response within a smart grid is crucial to energy delivery. The demand response will connect consumers to to their overall energy use through real time pricing. Consumers will have the option of turning on their intelligent appliances when energy rates are at their lowest. This new trend should push companies to create newer energy efficient products as well.

Carbon management and reduction is one of the main goals of the smart grid. The new grids will need technology to measure and monitor carbon emissions through carbon management technology such as smart meters and energy dashboards. Carbon footprints will be greatly reduced in production processes and individual consumption.

Home energy management is usually the part of a smart grid that consumers are most familiar with. Many companies are offering tools or services to track individual energy use. Recent sales figures have shown that consumers are not exactly purchasing energy dashboards in bulk. However, with the rise of smart appliances and electric vehicles, tools for home energy management will play a larger factor in the shaping of local smart grids.

The final trend in the shaping of smart grid technology will be electric vehicles. It is believed by many experts that the electric vehicle will be the final push for the general public to have smart grid technology in mainstream consciousness. As electric vehicles become more popular, energy companies will need to find ways to enable systems to handle increased loads. Having thousands or even millions of vehicles plugged in at once is no small issue. How energy companies adjust to meet this new usage pattern will directly impact the ability of consumers to adopt these new car technologies.

Photo Source: trade.gov

What’s So Fishy About Small Fish?

The world’s oceans are becoming over-crowded with sardines and small fish. Within the last 100 years, the population of small fish has more than doubled. The rise of sardines and small fish has been caused by a major decline in large predator fish due to the overfishing of sharks, tuna, cod, and swordfish. Recently, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has even added sardines to their Seafood Watch green list. Indicating, that sardines have made a comeback as a sustainable food source.

So, what type of impact does this have on our oceans? Sardines are known to feed on the free floating organisms called zooplankton. Zooplankton in return feed on plant plankton which is the organism usually at the bottom of the oceans food chain. As the population of forage fish such as the sardine, anchovy, and capelin are on the rise. The ocean has seen a dramatic decrease in zooplankton populations. Without zooplankton, the population of plant plankton is rising sharply and may become out of control. Thus, resulting in large blooms of green algae.

If a green algae bloom becomes large enough, it can choke the sea life in the ocean by reducing the water’s dissolved oxygen concentration, thereby knocking the ocean’s natural predator and prey relationship out of balance. During a bloom, a liter of sea water may contain millions of algae. Which could be harmful to the animals that feed on that particular algae, and the animals that prey on the species that eat that specific algae. A harmful algae bloom can have adverse effects to many species of marine mammals. Some may include specific toxicity-induced reductions in the development of immunological, neurological, and reproductive capacities within species.

The negative effects of having too much plant plankton in the ocean creating algae has effected many species in the past. In Spring 2004, the death of 107 Bottlenose Dolphins occurred along the Florida panhandle. It was found that the dolphins ingested harmful algae with high levels of brevetoxin. The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, has been exposed to neurotoxins by consuming and preying on highly contaminated zooplankton. Even the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle has ingested contaminated prey, leading to clinical signs of increased muscle weakness causing the turtle to wash ashore exhausted or dead.

With the number of small fish having doubled over the past 100 years and the effects of overfishing. There are just not enough natural hunters in the ocean to combat the ecological consequences. In fact, within the past 120 years the numbers of natural hunters have decreased by two thirds, due mostly to human fishing. By removing the larger natural hunters from the ocean, small forage fish are thriving and putting the ocean’s overall health at risk.

Photo credit: nlm.nih.gov

The “Meeting” of Mercury and Mars

mercury-mars-venus-jupiterWant to see a rare sight in the sky? You’ll have to set your alarm clock to 6:30 a.m. your local time or just before the sunrise look towards the sun. On Tuesday morning, April 19, the planets Mercury and Mars will appear to meet in the sky. In actuality, they will be separated by about 161 million miles in space. But, when viewed from the Earth’s surface they will only appear about four moon widths apart from each other.

The keys to viewing this natural phenomenon is to look to the eastern sky during the morning twilight. You will need a viewpoint that is low to the eastern horizon with few obstructions in the way, and a pair of binoculars. Make sure the sun’s light is being obstructed before looking into your binoculars at Mercury and Mars. Looking directly into the sun with binoculars is not advised and could be damaging to your eyes. Looking just above the horizon as the sun is coming up will provide for the optimum planetary view.

So, you don’t know where Mercury and Mars are, or need help locating them in the sky? Here are a few astronomical pointers. You can always use the much brighter planets of Venus and Jupiter as visual aids. Jupiter will be the brightest planet directly to the right of the sun during the morning sunrise. Venus will be the brightest planet to the diagonally upper right of Jupiter. Between Jupiter and Venus, will be Mercury and Mars. Mercury will appear slightly higher than Mars. Both Mercury and Mars should appear dimmer in the sky, when diagonally in between the brighter Jupiter and Venus. Once you have located these planet’s enjoy the view and sunrise.

Forget to wake up early or busy? Don’t worry about it, there are many upcoming conjunctions of planets in the months of April and May. Just quickly review your planetary alignment and don’t forget to bring your camera, these dates may provide for stunning photographic opportunities.

April 19: Mercury and Mars

April 22: Venus and Uranus

May 1: Mars and Jupiter

May 8: Mercury and Venus

May 10: Mercury and Jupiter

May 11: Venus and Jupiter

May 18: Mercury and Venus (repeated)

May 20: Mercury and Mars (repeated)

May 22: Venus and Mars

Photo credit: grc.nasa.gov