Saturday, December 24, 2011

Yellowstone Transformed 15 Years After the Return of Wolves

By: Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. Dec. 21, 2011 – On the 15th anniversary of the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, a quiet but profound rebirth of life and ecosystem health is emerging, scientists conclude in a new report.

For the first time in 70 years, the over-browsing of young aspen and willow trees has diminished as elk populations in northern Yellowstone declined and their fear of wolf predation increased. Trees and shrubs have begun recovering along some streams, providing improved habitat for beaver and fish. Birds and bears also have more food.

"Yellowstone increasingly looks like a different place," said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and lead author of the study.

"These are still the early stages of recovery, and some of this may still take decades," Ripple said. "But trees and shrubs are starting to come back and beaver numbers are increasing. The signs are very encouraging."

The findings of this report, based on a recent analysis done by OSU researchers and a review of many other studies as well, were just published in Biological Conservation, a professional journal. They outline an ecosystem renaissance that has taken place since wolves were restored to Yellowstone after being extirpated in the 1920s.

Read more . . . 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Global Cooling? - Dispelling An Enduring Myth With One Image

Courtesy John Cook at Skeptical Science
If the Earth’s temperature was the same year after year, then the effects of increasing greenhouse gases would be very easy to spot. Unfortunately, Mother Nature rarely makes things that easy to figure out. Besides the daily and seasonal cycles, we also have decadal temperature swings caused by the sunspot cycle and ocean/atmospheric oscillations. This tends to confuse non scientists, and fools many into believing claims that global warming has stopped. The Heartland Int. in Chicago (political think tank) has long been a major purveyor of this silliness.
John Cook, at Skeptical Science, has posted an incredible graphic that dispels this myth all by itself. This myth is very widespread, and if you google “global cooling” and you will see a plethora of web sites telling you the warming has ended and the planet is cooling. Those that believe this sort of thing will usually show a graph of temperatures to support it, but that graph will always cover just a few years. The image above shows why they do it that way; It’s kind of like saying that spring is cancelled because of an April cold snap!
Skeptical Science has an in-depth post that goes along with the graphic, and I highly recommend reading it. I’ll finally get to meet John Cook (at the December AGU conference) in San Francisco! He’s done an amazing job of showing the true science and dispelling the ubiquitous myths, that sound scientific, but are really just politics in disguise. Read it, and next time you’ll know when someone is giving you political belief dressed up to look like science.
Read more:
AGU Blogosphere | Dan's Wild Wild Science Journal | Dispelling An Enduring Myth With One Image:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Life and Times of the Alaskan Malamute

By Joe Henderson 

“Hey! Knock it off!” I scolded Johnny as he slapped the harness out of my hand and peed on it. He knows that harness is a good thing. He loves it. It’s his harness and he wants everyone to know it!

Johnny’s the boss. He’s the kingpin of the dog yard, or so he thinks. The other males keep their distance from him and they don’t dare cross his path or growl at him. They know he’ll just pin them to the ground. Johnny’s a typical dominating Alaskan malamute with a passion to indulge in a good fight once in a while. With most malamutes, this raging hormonal fighting stage lasts only a year or two, unless of course they’re Johnny, who lingered in that phase for eight years. Thank God he’s finally settled down at 10 years of age! But not all malamutes play this dominate role and have a temperament like Johnny. In understanding this behavior, let’s take a stroll through Johnny’s canine cranium and try to envision his lust for life through his eyes.
Johnny sees himself as an impressive malamute specimen. His black and white mask and black coat glistens in the morning sun. Johnny’s deep chest is supported by wide, muscular shoulders and his brushy tail curves perfectly over his back. Johnny enjoys being next to the young gals in the team and feels that no one else should be around them but him. If the other males get close to his girlfriends, Johnny reminds them who they’re messing with through a deep growl. When the other males hear his warning, they back off immediately, leaving the old grump alone. Johnny’s gotten used to be treated so well by others in the team and his ego has grown ridiculously large. Even while Johnny is hitched in the team he’s constantly showing off.

A typical day running the team with Johnny starts something like this: I hitch Johnny in wheel position. “Johnny you’re going next to Nikko…and be nice to him.” Johnny recognizes my commanding tone, yet he doesn’t understand all my words and he doesn’t care anyway. Nikko is a younger dog who’s just getting integrated into the team. He stands excitedly next to Johnny, wanting to run. But Johnny’s somewhat intimidated by Nikko, who’s grown up to be quite a large male. So, Johnny anticipates a good fight, or at least he’s looking forward to giving Nikko his best growl so he can watch the young rookie cower. At two years old, Nikko’s powerful chest and shoulders are starting to be a dominating feature of his physique, presenting a threat to Johnny’s domain.
Johnny hopes Nikko squares off with him. “Damn I’ve been looking forward to putting a scar down Nikko’s muzzle for quite some time now,” Johnny grumbles to himself. Nikko glances at him. Johnny rolls his lip above his sharp canines and lets out the snarliest growl he can muster. Nikko ignores the snarl, stiffens his legs trying to look taller than Johnny and thinks, “some day, buddy, you will be old, and then we’ll see.” 

Read more

Friday, November 4, 2011

Greater Yellowstone grizzlies: 'The road to recovery'

Courtesy photo/Neale Blank
Written by Gib Mathers
Powell Tribune

A grizzly bear takes five near Indian Pond in Yellowstone National Park. The grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has enjoyed a remarkable recovery in recent decades. But, with the recent spate of grizzly bear attacks on humans, officials and others plan to escalate the bear safety message hoping to curb nasty encounters with the bruins.

Population rebound a ‘success story’
(Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series exploring the history of grizzly bear recovery efforts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.)

The grizzly bear population rebound in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem “is probably the biggest success story in endangered species recovery in the last 100 years,” said Mark Bruscino, bear management program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Although the bears’ habitat has been depleted significantly in the last 100 years or more, today’s grizzly population has stabilized in the ecosystem after plunging to fewer than 100 bears in the 1970s. This year’s count is conservatively estimated at nearly 600 grizzlies.

Yellowstone National Park was one of the last sanctuaries for grizzlies in the lower 48 states, said an Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team 2008 report, “Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: From Garbage, Controversy and Decline to Recovery.”

Historically, seeing grizzly and black bears was a choice attraction for sightseers to Yellowstone National Park. By the 1880s, visitors assembled to observe the bruins devouring garbage dumped behind park hotels. By 1910, black bears learned to mooch food from tourists in wagons. In 1907 park staff were killing some grizzly and black bears due to human-bear conflicts, said the report.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Decline of Yellowstone’s Famous Druid Peak Pack

Druid wolves
Yellowstone's famous Druid Peak Pack, which roamed the Lamar Valley for nearly 15 years, disappeared from the park’s landscape in 2010. It was considered the most closely watched and photographed wolf pack in the world.

Through their intensive monitoring and research activities, 
Yellowstone Wolf Project staff have been able to piece together the story of the decline of the Druids. The details emphasize the life and death struggle wolves face to survive, even in a protected area like Yellowstone.

It is probable that 
intraspecific strife – or competition and conflict between wolf packs – contributed to the Druids’ downfall. Disease may have tipped the scale to their disadvantage, as well.  However, since the former Druid territory is now occupied by another pack, it appears that the territory is still prime wolf habitat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Are Hunters Good Wildlife Stewards When It Comes To Wolves? Not According To This Study

by Kurt Repanshek National Parks Traveler 

A new study likely to be controversial in some quarters suggests that hunters are not especially good wildlife stewards when the wildlife in question are wolves. While hunters long have been seen as conservation advocates for a wide range of species, when it comes to wolves the study by two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers would seem to indicate that the only good wolf is a dead wolf in the hunter's mind. “Hunters were some of the least tolerant of wolves among our respondents, and the closer you got to wolf range the less tolerant they were,” said Adrian Treves, a professor in the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Professor Treves and a colleague, Kerry Martin, took up a research project beginning in 2001 to survey hunters and non-hunters on attitudes toward wolves. Over the course of six years they interviewed 2,320 residents of Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming and were able to draw a picture of perceptions when it came to wolves. (Their findings appear in the August issue of the peer-reviewed journal Society and Natural Resources.

Read more

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where there's fire, critics will blow smoke

by E. J. Montini, columnist - Jun. 12, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

To most of us, a monster wildfire is a tragedy. 
To others, it's an opportunity to score political points, something they do by following this simple strategy: Blame "radical environmentalists."
This is accomplished, first, by always referring to the people with whom you disagree on the protection of natural resources as "radical environmentalists." After all, if they disagree with you, they must be radical.

Second, tell the world that if only the radical environmentalists didn't use lawsuits to prevent forest-thinning operations, there would be no monster fires.
It's an easy argument to make and a difficult one for regular people to refute, mostly because news organizations haven't provided readers and viewers with the kind of coverage they need to make an informed judgment. And we know why.

The topic of forest management is (let's be honest) boring. It's entertaining when a politician appears on TV or writes an op-ed for the newspaper railing about how radical environmentalists want to prevent any tree from being cut. And it's fun when a member of the environmental community says that some politicians would allow their businessmen pals to cut down every tree.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Arctic Traveler: Malamute Myth Busting 
September 1, 2009
By Joe Henderson

Alaskan Malamutes have been on this planet for a long time and recent DNA testing shows they are one of the world’s most ancient breeds. Throughout history we have called upon the malamute for the toughest jobs—dragging sleds to the North and South Poles, hauling U.S. mail across Alaska, and packing ammunition for our soldiers in WWII. But why are there so many myths about Alaskan malamutes?

In order to bust some of the myths, first we need to explore their history and origin. The Mahlemuit people or Inuit, whom they are named after, used the Alaskan malamute breed over 10,000 years ago and possibly earlier. The malamutes crossed the Bering Straits with the Inuit from the arctic regions of Siberia. They were used as pack dogs, hunting dogs, and sled dogs and protected the Inuit families from bears. It must have been a rugged life back then and the dogs had to conform to their environment or else they wouldn’t survive. They had to be stout and have stamina to carry a pack or pull a sledge. Their coats had to be lush with just the right length and thickness to hold their body heat and repel whipping snow during blizzards. And malamutes had to be intelligent, trusting, and loyal since they lived with people who valued them as part of their family. 

It’s also believed the dogs ate when the family ate which meant during famines they had to develop a digestive system that allowed them to absorb every micronutrient from their meager rations of food. I have seen dogs half the sizes of malamutes eat twice the amount of food as them—malamutes are just great keepers. These guys also had to develop hefty paws that would endure traveling on dry snow and sharp ice. Basically, it can be said the Alaskan malamute is the perfect breed for a brutal and imperfect environment.

Read more

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Do You Make the Perfect Sled Dog?

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2010) — Over the last few hundred years, Alaskan sled dogs have been bred to haul cargo over Arctic terrain and, more recently, for racing. Now, researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Genetics have identified the contributions different breeds have made to the speed, endurance and work ethic of Alaskan sled dogs.Heather Huson and Elaine Ostrander, from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA, worked with a team of researchers to carry out genetic analysis in 199 sled dogs and 681 purebred dogs from 141 different breeds.

Huson said, "The Alaskan sled dog comprises several different lineages, optimized for different racing styles -- long or short distance. We sought to identify breed composition profiles associated with expertise at specific tasks, finding that the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky contributions are associated with enhanced endurance; Pointer and Saluki are associated with enhanced speed and the Anatolian Shepherd has a positive influence on work ethic."

The researchers sampled sled dogs from eight kennels, rating them for speed, endurance, and work ethic, using established criteria specified for the distinct racing styles of sprint and distance. These attributes were correlated with genetic information taken from each dog and compared to likely ancestral breeds.
Speaking about the results, Huson said, "The Alaskan sled dog presents a case in which a genetically distinct breed of dog has been developed through the selection and breeding of individuals based solely on their athletic prowess. Interestingly, this continual out-crossing for athletic enhancement has still led to the Alaskan sled dog repeatedly producing its own unique genetic signature. Indeed, the Alaskan sled dog breed proved to be more genetically distinct than breeds of similar heritage such as the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Does Snow and Cold Weather Disprove Climate Change?

It’s Cold and My Car is Buried in Snow. Is Global Warming Really Happening?

Woman scrapes snow off of her car after cold weather and a snow stormFor years, climate contrarians have pointed to snowfall and cold weather to question the scientific reality of human-induced climate change.
Their annual barrage of misinformation obscures the interesting work scientists are doing to figure out just how climate change is affecting weather patterns year-round.
Understanding what scientists know about these effects can help us adapt. And, if we reduce the emissions that are driving climate change, we can avert its worst consequences in the future.

What is the relationship between weather and climate?

Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.
NASA and NOAA plus research centers around the world track the global average temperature, and all conclude that Earth is warming. In fact, the past decade has been found to be the hottest since scientists started recording reliable data in the 1880s. These rising temperatures are caused primarily by an increase of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere created when we burn coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity, drive our cars, and fuel our businesses. Hotter air around the globe causes more water evaporation, which fuels heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain and snow storms.
At the same time, because less of a region’s precipitation is falling in light storms and more of it in heavy storms, the risks of drought and wildfire are also greater. Ironically, higher air temperatures tend to produce intense drought periods punctuated by heavy floods, often in the same region.
These kinds of disasters may become a normal pattern in our everyday weather as levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to rise.
The United States is already experiencing more intense rain and snow storms. The amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent, averaged nationally—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.
Some regions of the country have seen as much as a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Global Warming Science

"There is no longer any doubt in the expert scientific community that the Earth is warming—and it’s now clear that human activity has a significant part in it." - The Union of Concerned Scientists

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Endangered Wolves Sacrificed in Budget Deal

wolves-photosAlthough Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama stood firm against Republican attempts to repeal clean air and clean water protections, wolves in the Northern Rockies weren't so lucky.
Under pressure from ranching interests in Montana and Idaho, as well as anti-wolf zealots in those states, Reid and Obama agreed to accept an amendment from Montana Democrat Jon Tester mandating the removal of grey wolves in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list. For Obama, at least, the move isn't surprising: his administration backed the Bush administration's delisting of wolves even though it would allow the two massive states to cut wolf populations to as few as 450 individuals between them.
While the decision is bad news for the ecology of the Northern Rockies, where wolves play an important role in keeping elk and deer herds healthy, it also sets a disturbing precedent. Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickheisen told The New York Times:
In all the decades of the Endangered Species Act, Congress has never legislatively removed protections for any species. It's bad to do it for the wolf, and it could set a very bad precedent, replacing scientific determinations with politics.
The extraordinary thing about this action is that it was eminently preventable -- and may still be if environmentalists are willing to act a little more like wolves and less like lambs. The reality is that the American people love wolves and other charismatic predators -- and want politicians to protect them.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Budget's Wolf Delisting Opens Pandora's Box of Species Attacks

A bipartisan measure to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Montana and Idaho undermines the scientific integrity of the 37-year-old law and could open the door to removing safeguards for other species and their habitats, environmental groups said.

The proposal from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) to return wolf management to their respective states was included in a bicameral budget agreement to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year (E&E Daily, April 11). The spending bill is expected to be approved this week.
But while it enjoys broad support from hunters, ranchers and state officials in Montana and Idaho, the proposal would be the first time legislation has ever removed ESA protections for a species. It could threaten other wildlife whose protected status is under attack in Congress, groups say.
"It certainly sets a precedent, but probably more disturbingly, it sends a signal that, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, the Endangered Species Act is a bargaining chip," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Environmentalists said they are concerned lawmakers in the Republican-led House will hold other species and habitat protections hostage as the administration pursues other must-pass legislation, such as a bill to raise the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget.

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Fact-Checking The Ryan Budget Plan

“We need to get rid of all these accounting tricks, all these budget gimmicks, and we've got to attack the drivers of our debt.”
--Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, April 5, 2011
 With a snazzy video presentation and a plan long on rhetoric and short on details, Rep. Ryan unveiled his 2012 “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint Tuesday, setting the stage of a titanic clash of government philosophies. Give Ryan credit for his willingness to offer some bold ideas on spending, including fundamentally changing the venerable Medicare and Medicaid programs — after all, President Obama punted on those issues — even as Ryan refuses to consider any kind of tax increases to deal with the growing budget deficit.
In any case, the Fact Checker doesn’t deal in philosophical questions; we look at cold, hard facts. Ryan on Tuesday suggested he was going to get rid of “these accounting tricks, all these budget gimmicks” in writing his budget plan. So how did he do?  Here are some initial findings.
The Facts
First of all, his fancy presentation stacks the deck a bit. His budget presentation shows a scary-looking graph depicting an ocean of red stretching out into the future. The graph is titled, “We are in a Spending-Driven Debt Crisis” and says it is based on “CBO’s Alternative Fiscal Scenario.”  But then when you actually look at one of CBO papers that outlines this scenario, it turns out that the scary scenario is also based on taxes being too low, not just spending being too high. 
 Read more at the Washington Post

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More about the Alaskan Malamute