Monday, November 3, 2014

Blog dump, part the second

Guys! I am the worst at updating this. I'll do better, I swear.

A few High Country News blogs from the last month:

1. If you spent any time on the internet last week, you probably saw the photos: A giant, roiling mass of 35,000 walrus crowded onto a beach in northwest Alaska. The photos, captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, were featured on the BBC, the Associated Press and more Twitter and Facebook feeds than anyone could count.

Most reports — with the exception of a few ultra-conservative sites — decisively linked the record numbers of on-shore walrus to record low sea ice offshore, and overnight, the walrus became an international symbol of climate change. The New York Times called the situation a “walrus crisis,” and NBC News reported that it was a “ very visual sign of what wildlife scientists know and worry about: From the Arctic to Antarctica, some species are having to adapt, or die, in the face of the long-term threat of a warming planet.”

But two walrus experts currently using a National Science Foundation grant to analyze recent, historic and prehistoric walrus samples to piece together the species’ 4,000-year history say that we don’t understand enough about “normal” walrus behavior to know whether the massive haul-out is, in fact, unusual....

2. For all the strides female firefighters have made in the last few decades, wildland firefighting is still, at it’s heart, a men’s club. Only 10 percent of wildland firefighters in the U.S. are women, and across the West, recruitment and retention are ongoing challenges. Yet nowhere is this more evident than in California, where a series of lawsuits meant to get more women onto the front lines have seemingly backfired, leaving women in what some argue are worse straits than before.....

3. If you live in a city, the U.S. Geological Survey has some bad news for you: There’s a good chance your water is contaminated. A USGS study released earlier this month monitored more than 200 streams from 1992 to 2011 and found that the number of urban waterways contaminated with pesticides increased from 53 percent in the 1990s to 90 percent the following decade. Most pollutants were found at levels only harmful to aquatic life like fish, frogs and insects, while the number of streams with contaminant levels that pose a risk to human health actually dropped. Yet new chemicals are still permeating the environment and our understanding of their negative effects is limited.

Still, the USGS study is the country’s most comprehensive assessment of water quality to date, and it does offer some good news — or at least, what passes for good news on the environmental beat.

4. It’s rare that a piece of legislation containing the word “wilderness” stands a chance in Congress these days, so when I was invited to fly over a proposed 37,000-acre parcel in southwest Colorado that could actually make it onto the president’s desk, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it was a crisp, clear autumn morning I would have otherwise spent in front of a computer really had nothing to do with it, I swear....
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