December 14, 2018
New Farm Bill Is a Win for Conservation
By Ben Long/Outdoor Life
McGraw Photo by Alex Garcia
Hunters and anglers who care about access to the outdoors and healthy fish and wildlife habitat should be pleased with the Farm Bill that finally cleared Congress this week.

“This is a very good bill, especially when you consider where it was pointing a few months ago,” said Alex Maggos, the director of agriculture and private lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Earlier drafts of the bill threatened to slash conservation by $1 billion. But sportsmen groups and conservationists fought back hard and conservation programs fared better in the final negotiations.

The Farm Bill is an enormous and sweeping piece of legislation (It is projected to cost $867 billion over a decade). It sets the agriculture policy for the country, but also touches on a host of other issues from food stamps to conservation. It’s particularly important for hunters and anglers since private farms and forestry provides habitat for pheasant, whitetail deer, and other popular game species.

How Citizens and Social Media Advance Science
By Brandon Keim/Anthropocene
Photo by Meri Tosh/flickr
On a cold night this past February, a striped skunk wandered into a suburban Colorado Springs backyard carrying a stone in one paw. The skunk climbed onto a water bowl and, using the stone like a hammer, banged a hole in its frozen surface. It was the first documented occurrence of a skunk using a tool — and the evidence was gathered not by biologists, but by a nature-loving citizen with a motion-activated camera.

How much more might be learned made if scientists harnessed the richness of these amateur observations?

“The broad availability of technology,” says Mario Pesendorfer, a behavioral ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “and the dissemination of photos or clips via social media provide a new path to the discovery of rare phenomena.”

Pesendorfer, the lead author of  an Ecosphere study describing the stone-wielding skunk , is joined on the paper by biologist Jerry Dragoo of the University of New Mexico and Suzanne Dickerson, known on Twitter as  @CameraTrapSue . It was her tech-enabled curiosity that captured the natural history-making event.

Want More Gamefish? Protect their Prey
Photo by Nils Rinaldi/flickr
Like other small but critically important forage fish, Atlantic menhaden play a central role in the marine food web. These tiny, oily baitfish are an essential food source for larger fish species, including some of the Atlantic’s most economically-important sportfish: striped bass, bluefin tuna, bluefish, weakfish, tarpon, summer flounder, and sharks. Whales, dolphins, seabirds, and other marine species also consume menhaden in large quantities. Menhaden also regulate water quality by filtering harmful nutrients as they feed.

But menhaden are not currently managed with consideration for their vital role in coastal ecosystems.

In fact, commercial harvest of menhaden has increased to meet the demand of what’s called a “reduction fishery,” which reduces billions of menhaden into livestock feed, fish oil, fish meal, fertilizers, cosmetics, and other products. More menhaden are commercially harvested each year than any other fish in the continental U.S.—more than a million are caught per trip and more than 150,000 metric tons are caught per year, putting predators at risk..

This is why sportsmen and women are calling for federal fisheries managers to change their approach to managing forage fish like menhaden.

Humans Didn’t Cause Mass Extinctions
in Africa
By Ashley May/USA Today
Photo by IFAW/flickr
A new study disagrees with a longstanding view that humans wiped out large animals that previously occupied Africa.

In research published in the journal  Science , authors analyzed records on megaherbivore communities in eastern Africa over seven million years. A megaherbivore is a mammal weighing more than 2,000 pounds. They concluded that extinctions of diverse mammal communities in Africa occurred before evidence of human hunting.

The animal decline might have instead been because of environmental factors such as declining atmospheric carbon dioxide and expansion of grasslands, researchers write. 

"Low CO2 levels favor tropical grasses over trees, and as a consequence savannas became less woody and more open through time," John Rowan, a postdoctoral scientist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was involved in the research, said in a  statement . "We know that many of the extinct megaherbivores fed on woody vegetation, so they seem to disappear alongside their food source."

Indoor Fish Farming May Be More Sustainable
By Priya Krishna/The New York Times
Photo by Tim Chen/flickr
Branzino can be found these days on restaurant menus from Seattle to Atlanta. The flaky, tender, silver-skinned fish — also known as European sea bass, or loup de mer — has become a fixation for chefs and diners.

The reality, though, is that the species’ ocean stock is depleted, and most of the branzino consumed in the United States is farmed in the Mediterranean Sea (where the species is native). Because fish in those farming operations are often enclosed in large cages in the ocean, the concentration of waste can lead to diseases that require treatment with chemicals.

The fish are also flown thousands of miles to American consumers. By the time they reach a kitchen, they have lost much of their freshness and shelf life.
Now, in Connecticut, Eric Pedersen is commercially farming branzino in a 63,000-square-foot space at least a half-hour drive from the ocean. And he is attracting interest from grocers and chefs in search of fresher, more sustainable fish.

 "Forever old and forever new, a sunrise is always and never the same." 

- Havilah Babcock
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