April 6, 2018
Farmers Learning How to do More with Less
By Matt Jenkins/nature.org
Photo by Mr. Nixster/flickr
In western Nebraska, where Mike Svoboda grows 2,400 acres of kidney beans, black beans and popcorn, water is a farmer’s most precious resource. Farmers draw water from the nearby South Platte River and pump groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer.

Yet farmers’ dependence on water has come at a cost to the environment. A 90-mile stretch of the Platte has been designated as critical habitat to protect endangered whooping cranes, and many farmers who depend on the Ogallala are being forced to limit their pumping to prevent aquifer levels from falling too fast.

In 2014, The Nature Conservancy began a pilot program to increase water efficiency here, eventually partnering with almost a dozen farmers who account for some 8,000 acres of land. Since then, Svoboda says, “it saved a lot more water than anybody had anticipated.”

The program helped the farmers learn to micromanage irrigation across their fields, enabling them to reduce their pumping by about 20 percent. Over the three-year period, they saved more than a billion gallons of water—enough to fill more than 110,000 semitanker trucks. That’s good for the environment, but it is also good for farmers’ bottom lines. Pumping water takes a lot of energy, so reducing pumping saves money. But the study had another interesting result: Less water didn’t equal smaller harvest yields. “We had two fields that were almost identical, except that one had all the water-efficiency technology on it,” says Svoboda. At harvest time, he says, “that one kicked the other field’s butt.”

When it comes to farming, doing more with less—not just in Nebraska but across the globe—is more critical than ever.
King Salmon Keep Disappearing at an Alarming Rate
By Chuck Thompson/Outdoor Life
Photo by Matana and Jes/flickr
Tseta Creek lies 150 river miles from the Pacific Ocean in northern British Columbia, several days’ paddle from the nearest road. Part of the Taku River watershed—the famed fishery that spills into Alaskan waters south of Juneau—it’s hidden amid towering peaks and twisting valleys. No matter what your beliefs on matters of the divine, when you finally arrive here, you look around at the untouched, glacial-carved wilderness and can’t help thinking, As God intended.

Tseta Creek is perfect wild spawning habitat in every way but one: There are almost no salmon here.

“A few years ago, this whole stretch of river was plugged— chinook [king] salmon  were so thick, they were running through your legs,” says Nathan Frost, an  Alaska Department of Fish and Game  fishery biologist. A similar bend on the nearby Nahlin River was an even hotter spot. Thousands of spawners rushed upriver like daily freight trains. Today, Frost calls the area “a biological dead zone.”
Saying Good-bye to a Friend That’s Washing Away
By Bob Marshall/nola.com
Photo by Gulf Restoration Network/flickr
Last Sunday I motored out to the southeastern edge of Barataria Bay say good-bye to an old friend -- the Cat Islands.

This line of grass and mangrove islands once spread for miles across the bay like a string of green pearls. Today all that's left is a tiny strip of crushed shells and sand maybe 30 yards long and 10 feet wide. That will  be washed away  with the next storm. And part of my life will go with them.

As they had for generations of sportsmen before me, The Cats became one of my favorite destinations, a place responsible for a library of warm memories of good times with good friends. Their grassy shorelines were favorite year-round haunts for redfish, while the oyster reefs that surrounded them attracted schools of speckled trout during summer spawning season. When the wind was right, the silver and bronze shadows of speckled trout and reds would be waving in clear green water when we arrived, waiting to pounce on our offerings of live shrimp or gold spoons.
What’s in the Spending Bill for the Outdoors
Backcountry Hunters &Anglers
Photo by chrisjtse/flickr
Congress has passed a comprehensive funding package that will enhance management of our public lands, waters and wildlife while supporting new access and opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women. At $1.3 trillion, this omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 increases funding across key federal agency bureaus. Here are some:

Department of the Interior
DOI received $13.1 billion in the omnibus, a significant boost from the $11.7 billion recommended by the administration, with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both receiving funding increases.

United States Fish & Wildlife Service
$1.595 billion in total funding was appropriated to USFWS, an increase of $75 million from FY 2017 enacted levels that includes a $53 million increase to address maintenance backlogs, primarily on national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act
$40 million was appropriated to the NAWCA grants program, the largest appropriation since 2010 and one that will continue to support waterfowl, wildlife, fisheries and economic contributions across the continent.
The Surprisingly Sophisticated Lives of Rats. Yes, Rats.
By Brandon Keim/Anthropocene
Photo by Sergei Yelisev/flickr
No creatures are so ceaselessly persecuted as Norway rats — scientifically known as  Rattus norvegicus , commonly called brown rats, and often referred to with a scream and a call to the exterminator.

To people who study them, though, rats are remarkable animals. In recent years scientists have described their possession of traits long thought unique to humans and a few extra-smart creatures: empathy, self-awareness, complex memories, rich communication systems, and a social system founded on cooperation mediated by commodity trade.

That rats could have systems of exchange — you clean my back, and I’ll clean yours — isn’t so surprising. But exchanging different goods and services, such as grooming for food or vice versa, and keeping track of who owes what, is considered to be a highly sophisticated and cognitively demanding behavior. It’s the sort of trading that’s fundamental to human society — and as described in a study published in  Current Biology , rats do it too.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 

- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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