December 8, 2017
Could Western Wildfire Be Avoided?
By Joel Webster/TRCP
Photo by State Farm/flickr
With elk and deer seasons right around the corner, I've been running, biking, and hiking as often as I can on the public lands near Missoula, Mont. You'd think that my main challenge would be climbing a particularly steep mountain trail, but lately the real hurdle has been simply trying to breathe-the smell of smoke from the many active wildfires in western Montana clings to my clothing long after I've returned to my desk.

To make matters worse, many of our nearby public and private lands have been evacuated and remain closed because of the wildfires bearing down on our community. At worst, these wildfires are terrifying. At best, they're a major inconvenience for those of us who are living for fall.

When the rains finally come and the smoke clears, we'll look back at 2017 as being a nasty fire year in Montana and other areas of the West. It should also be the year when Congress finally fixes the wildfire funding crisis that has made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job and has left our public lands even more susceptible to fire. It's a cycle that's fueling the flames.

Lake County Man Sets State Birding Record
By Sheryl DeVore/News Sun
Photo by Albuquerque BioPark/flickr
Those looking for Andy Stewart most mornings this year would have found him walking along Lake Michigan somewhere between Winthrop Harbor and south Waukegan, binoculars around his neck, spotting scope in tow.

In fact, in the past three years, Stewart, a 64-year-old from Libertyville, said he's spent nearly every day greeting the sun along Lake Michigan in Lake County - even when it's snowy, windy and icy cold in winter, or when the sun is beating down on the hot sand in summer.

His reward, besides seeing many beautiful sunrises, was discovering more bird species in one year in one Illinois county than anyone else, according to the Illinois Ornithological Society.

From Jan. 1 through Nov. 30 of this year, Stewart counted 282 species. 
Start your own bird list by signing up for McGraw's Winter Bird Walk -- 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9. Join McGraw's Center for Conservation Education as we take to the trails to explore the birds of McGraw. Call Pond Cottage to reserve your spot. (847) 741-8000
Abominable: Genetic Analysis Uncovers Truth
By Ben Guarino/The Washington Post
Photo by Michael Foley/flickr
The yeti, or abominable snowman, is one of the most sought-after animals that does not exist. A long line of explorers, including mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and  Reinhold Messner , reported seeing strange figures and footprints in the Himalayas. Said to walk on two legs through the Tibetan Plateau, the yeti is described as a hairy and humanoid primate, partway between gorilla and David Letterman's beard.

If you wish to hunt a yeti, there are just three rules to follow. If you find one, no talking to the press, not without permission from Nepali government officials. You can take the animal alive but you cannot harm it: Shooting is to be done with cameras only, per a 1959  State Department memo  (an exception is carved out for self-defense). And you must pay Nepal 5,000 rupees ($48.50) for a yeti permit.

We would encourage you to spend those 5,000 rupees elsewhere. You won't find a yeti in yeti habitat. But, if you're lucky, you might stumble upon a bear.

In a new genetic analysis, yeti bones, fur and other biological material turned out to be bear parts. 
An Angler's Proposal to Restore Everglades
By Hal Herring/Field & Stream
Photo by luvjnx/flickr
Black, toxic water was flowing into the Caloo­sa­hatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Following the rains of Hurricane Irma in Sept. 2017, the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  began discharging highly polluted water-billions of gallons of it-from Lake Okee­cho­bee into the South Florida rivers to prevent the flooding of agricultural land to the south, but at the same time poisoning some of the richest gamefish habitat in the world.

This was hardly a first.

In the summer of 2016, the Corps had discharged more than 200 billion gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee,  setting off a chain of catastrophes . A 239 square  mile bloom of toxic algae had been spreading across the lake all summer, and when that water was released, the Caloo­sa­hatchee and St. Lucie were flooded with it. Beaches were closed. People fell ill. Fish died. Officials advised people to stay away from the very waters that had made this part of Florida one of the nation's most famous fishing destinations. It was the worst the pollution had ever been, but the discharges happen every rainy year in South Florida. So when the black water poured into the rivers again this past September, people knew what to expect.

"It's economic free fall," a St. Lucie fishing guide told me on a recent trip to Florida. 
With Cold Patterns,
Snowy Owls May Be Coming
By Leslie Nemo/Audubon
Photo by David A Mitchell/flickr
Four years ago, thousands of Snowy Owls stormed the northern United States, taking up posts in surroundings drastically different from the flat Arctic tundra over which they typically preside. Some whiled away the hours peering at dog walkers from suburban fences; one learned to hunt around a Minnesota brewery with mouse problems. In a typical winter, around 10 Snowies visit Pennsylvania, but in 2013 the state was graced by 400. They were part of the largest Snowy Owl irruption, or influx of a species into a place they don't usually live, the U.S. has seen since the 1920s.

If you missed it, you might be in luck.  Project SNOWstorm , a volunteer-fueled Snowy Owl-tracking organization founded after that irruption, predicts another wave of Arctic raptors will hit North America this winter, according to their most recent blog  post .

Scott Weidensaul, one of the directors of Project SNOWstorm, says the clues point to a big irruption, but the group also fully admits there's no way to definitively know how big it could be or if it will even happen at all. "There's a little bit of voodoo and black magic in all of this," Weidensaul says. Though Snowy Owl migration patterns are mostly mysterious, there have been some tell-tale signs that the birds are on their way.

"A hunt based only on the trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be."