May 19, 2017
Funding Bill Better than Expected for Conservation
By Kristyn Brady/
Photo by Wally Gobetz/flickr
Congress has passed an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 with some increased funding for conservation and no harmful policy riders. The House and Senate's investment in conservation is seemingly at odds with the Trump administration's budget outline for fiscal year 2018, which would deeply cut most conservation programs and entirely eliminate others, including Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

"While last-minute funding solutions are not the ideal way to govern, sportsmen and women should be heartened to see Congress endorse funding levels mostly on par with what we got in 2016 and even give a modest bump to the things we care about, including healthier waterways, stronger sage grouse populations, restoration assistance in the Everglades, and better conservation practices on private lands," says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Tucked within more than 1,600 pages detailing government spending through September 30, the FY2017 omnibus package includes the following:
  • An $8.9-million increase for sage grouse conservation programs and no riders undermining the federal conservation plans that helped keep this iconic Western game bird off the endangered species list in 2015.
  • $864 million for Conservation Operations at the Natural Resources Conservation Service within U.S. Department of Agriculture-that's about $13.5 million more than last year and exceeds President Obama's last budget request by more than $1 million. 

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Why Our Mosquito Problems Will Only Get Worse
By Maryn McKenna/The New York Times Magazine
Photo by Tom/flickr
The outbreak began so slowly that no one in Dallas perceived it at first. In June 2012, a trickle of people began showing up in emergency rooms broiling with fever, complaining that their necks were stiff and that bright lights hurt their eyes. The numbers were initially small; but by the middle of July, there were more than 50 victims each week, slumping in doctors' offices or carried into hospitals comatose or paralyzed from inflammation in their brains. In early August, after nine people died, Dallas County declared a state of emergency: It was caught in an epidemic of what turned out to be West Nile virus, the worst ever experienced by a city in the United States. By the end of the year, 1,162 people had tested positive for the mosquito-borne virus; 216 had become sick enough to be hospitalized; and 19 were dead.

West Nile was not new to the United States. It had been a minor summer threat since August 1999, when it made 17 people sick in New York City. That was the virus's first entry into the country, and it expanded through it thereafter. It landed in Dallas in 2002, sickening 202 people and killing 13. When it moved on toward the West Coast, epidemiologists in the city thought West Nile would no longer be a threat. And events seemed to prove them right: Each year, there were just a handful of cases. In 2011, the year before the epidemic, there was only one.

"We all thought these things come as a flash in the pan: one big outbreak and then you don't see them again," Dr. Robert Haley says. Haley is the director of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a former disease detective at the C.D.C. 
Can We Save America's Broken and Vital Prairie?
By David J. Unger/
Photo by Curtis Simmons/flickr
It's easy to view North Dakota's unending flatness as boring, empty, untamed. There's a long tradition of seeing the prairie - this vast stretch of fertile, grass-dominated land - as negative space with no purpose other than to be transformed into something  with purpose.

The famed naturalist Aldo Leopold saw it differently. "Prairie was, in fact, a community of wild animals and plants so organized," he wrote, "as to build, through the centuries, the rich soil which now feeds us."

In other words, all that pasqueflower, ragwort, indigo, and milkweed - all those bison, prairie dogs, pronghorns, daphnia, water boatmen, and eared grebes - have lived and died across the millennia, cycling nutrients from sun to leaves to soil to flesh and back into soil again. The soil that remains is packed with deep energy we turn into food for ourselves and the animals that feed us. Increasingly, this old, flat land provides fossil fuels, wind, and corn that we turn into modern energy and use in our homes and cars.
Human Noise Pollution Even Pervades Our National Parks
By Sarah Kaplan/The Washington Post
Photo by Edward Stojakovic/flickr
In wintertime, the sounds of nature are so subtle they're almost imperceptible: The whistling of the wind though craggy mountaintops, the whispering branches of the trees; the soft, delicate patter of an unseen animal's paws across snowy ground.

"It's a really quiet experience," said Rachel Buxton, recalling a recent winter hike in southwest Colorado's La Garita Wilderness. "You're almost hearing your own heartbeat."
But every 30 minutes, a jet flew overhead, shattering the fragile calm. "It's shocking, right?" she said. "You're in the middle of nowhere, yet you still can't escape the sounds of humans."

That's the trouble with noise pollution, continued Buxton, an acoustic ecologist at Colorado State University: "It really doesn't have any boundaries. There's no way of holding it in."

This problem pervades wilderness areas across the United States, Buxton and her colleagues  reported in the journal Science . Using a model based on sound measurements taken by the National Park Service, they found that human noises at least double the background sound levels at the majority of protected areas in the country.
Fact-checking the Federal Public Lands Debate
By Ben Long/Outdoor Life
Photo by farmboyted/flickr
In Congress and around campfires, Americans are debating the fate of federal public lands-640 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, and parks. Some politicians and special-interest groups say that Congress should dump these lands by transferring them over to individual states.

Proponents of transfer say that state governments can do a better job of managing public lands than the federal government can, and that states would better utilize natural resources to bolster local economies. Opponents argue that transferring lands to the states is just a step toward privatization and would jeopardize the country's natural treasures. Plus, it could lock sportsmen and women out of the best public hunting and fishing in the country.

In hopes of demystifying the debate, we examined claims from both sides about why federal public land should, or shouldn't, be transferred to the states. Here's what's legit, and what's not.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity..."