August 30, 2019
What you need to know about Amazon fires
The Verge
Photo by Oregon State University/flickr
Record-breaking fires are ripping through the Amazon — an ecosystem on which the whole world depends. Here is a primer on the issue.

An unprecedented number of fires have raged throughout Brazil in 2019, intensifying in August. There have been more than 80,000 fires so far this year, the most ever recorded by the country’s  National Institute for Space Research . It’s a nearly 80 percent jump compared to the number of fires the country experienced over the same time period in 2018. More than half of those fires are taking place in the Amazon.

Experts say deforestation and a practice called slash-and-burn are to blame for most of the flames. People cut down patches of forest, allow the area to dry out, then set the remains ablaze to make room for agriculture or other development. They might also set fires to replenish the soil and encourage the growth of pastures for cattle. Brazil is the world’s top exporter of beef,  according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture .
“These are intentional fires to clear the forest,” said Cathelijne Stoof, coordinator of the Fire Center at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “People want to get rid of the forest to make agricultural land, for people to eat meat.”

An Illinois farmer and his wetlands
By Mike Budd/Outdoor Illinois
Photo by Wild Frog Photography/flickr
Instead of fighting the constant battle of farming chronically wet areas in his fields, John Dassow of Livingston County, Illinois, decided to put those areas to work producing ducks, pheasants, bumblebees, butterflies, songbirds and clean water. These areas also provide a place for his family and friends to hunt in the fall, after crops have been harvested and cover-crops are planted. Over the past few years, Dassow has restored multiple wetlands in Livingston and Ford counties and within a short amount of time they have started to yield countless waterfowl, pheasants and pollinators.

The wildlife and environmental aspects of the projects are important, but so is the economic aspect. According to Dassow, “The wet spots where we restored wetlands were impacting our yield averages. Instead of letting them reduce our overall yield and wasting money on inputs, we restored them to their historical status of wetland and prairie habitat. This helps the fields achieve a higher overall yield, which is critical in achieving profitability. By continuing to farm low-yielding, unprofitable acres, producers are negatively affecting their bottom line and reducing their crop insurance guarantees. That’s leaving money on the table at times when we need every penny.”

Over the next couple of years, Dassow has other wetlands planned on his farm and he also is helping his neighbors restore wetlands. 

What’s ailing Florida’s iconic panthers?
By Joshua Sokol/The New York Times
Photo by USFWS/flickr
In southwest Florida, any sighting of the state’s iconic panther — on your porch, lounging in the backyard, advancing toward you on a trail — might go viral. But the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took to social media to crowdsource a different kind of video: panthers that seem to have trouble walking.

Trail cameras in three counties have identified eight endangered panthers and one bobcat with a hitch in their step, affected by a mysterious neurological disorder that seems to hit kittens hardest. State officials have also confirmed nerve damage firsthand in another panther and another bobcat.

In one video shared by the agency, a panther kitten stumbles several times as it follows its mother and another sibling, dragging its lower body as it struggles to rise.

“While the number of animals exhibiting these symptoms is relatively few, we are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue,” said Gil McRae, the director of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., in a statement.

Report: 6 million public acres are inaccessible
The Associated Press
Photo by Bill Dickinson/flickr
More than 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) of state property scattered across 11 states in the U.S. West are landlocked by private property and largely inaccessible to hunters, anglers and other recreational users, public lands advocates said Monday.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX, a Montana-based land data company, analyzed land ownership patterns for a report detailing the extent of state-owned parcels that lack public access.

Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming each have more than 1 million acres (0.4 million hectares) of state lands surrounded by private property, according to the report. Nevada has the least amount with less than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) landlocked.

Access issues have become increasingly important in the West as the population grows and more people go outdoors to hunt, hike and fish. A similar report last year identified 9.5 million acres of federal lands with no permanent public access.

Breakthrough could offer lifeline to coral reefs
Photo by Matt Kieffer/flickr
The  Florida Aquarium  in Tampa, Florida, says it’s made scientific history as a group of coral has successfully reproduced two days in a row for the first time in a lab setting.

The milestone could have broad implications for "America's Great Barrier Reef," which is the third largest coral reef in the world and is found just off the coast of the Florida Keys.

The successful result is part of what the aquarium calls "Project Coral" -- a program designed in part with the goal of ultimately repopulating the Florida Reef Tract. The project works in partnership with London's Horniman Museum and Gardens to create coral spawn, or large egg deposits, in a lab.

"It's pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world," CEO of the Florida Aquarium Roger Germann said. "Our team of experts cracked the code...that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans."

“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.”

- Chico Mendes
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