May 18, 2018
In California, Rice Fields are Replacing Lost Wetlands
By Lisa Moorehouse/KQED
Photo by Bob White/flickr
Before the Gold Rush, the Central Valley in California was like a bathtub. Rivers full of water from the mountains meandered through the valley, spreading the water far and wide across a vast expanse of natural wetlands.

This created rich feeding grounds for migrating species: salmon going to and from the ocean, or birds flying through from Alaska or Argentina. But with the development of farms, dams, houses and roads over the course of the 20th Century, California lost more than 90 percent of its natural wetlands -- and that, in turn, threatened the wildlife.

Now, the northern part of the Central Valley -- the Sacramento Valley -- looks like a quilt of perfectly-level rice fields. It’s a vastly productive area that has made the state second only to the Mississippi Delta in rice production.
That dramatic change in the landscape may sound grim, but in California’s rice country, some strange bedfellows are working together to address the historic loss of wildlife habitat, in a way that makes rice farming part of the solution.
Wherever Ancient Bighorns Went, Human Hunters Followed
By Brett French/The Missoulian
Photo by davey nin/flickr
Although ancient bighorn DNA analysis was a great way to link Montana State University professor Craig Lee’s research with fellow academics, he was more interested in what the dates of the skulls would reveal: continuous occupation of the Beartooth Mountains dating back 5,500 years.

Following those animals for thousands of years were ancient humans.

Perhaps the most impressive artifact Lee’s team has recovered from receding ice patches in the high mountains is an 11,500-year-old wooden dart shaft — proof that humans had been living in or visiting the high country for thousands of years. Another revealing artifact was a stone scraper. The nearest source for that type of rock was 350 miles to the east in northwestern South Dakota.

“It was a peopled landscape,” Lee said. “As soon as glacial ice came off we had Clovis artifacts in Paradise Valley.”
Unexpected Baby Boom Has
Whale Researchers Smiling
By Karen Weintraub/The New York Times
Photo by .Shell/flickr
In a rare piece of good news for whales, humpbacks who live and breed in the southern oceans near Antarctica appear to be making a comeback, with females in recent years having a high pregnancy rate and giving birth to more calves.

Humpback whales were nearly hunted out of existence in the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries until treaties were signed to stop killing them and protections were put in place for the world’s coldest, least accessible continent.

The end of hunting has fostered the recovery of the school-bus-sized animals whose life spans are roughly comparable to ours, according to Ari Friedlaender, an associate researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz, who led the new study.

The population was believed to have been reduced to less than 10 percent of pre-whaling levels.
What Do Falcons Have in Common With Ballistic Missiles?
By Ben Guarino/The Washington Post
Photo by Thomas Helbig/flickr
Peregrine falcons, apex predators that hunt near rock cliffs and skyscrapers, strike like a stock market crash: fast and hard. The birds fly to great heights, then tuck their wings and plummet. Mid nose-dive, falcons have been clocked at  220 mph , equal to the top speed of a Formula One racecar. The dive, called a stoop, is the deadly tactic that falcons use to catch other birds.

The falcon's stoop has fascinated birdwatchers and scientists alike. “Detailed descriptions of the peregrine’s dive date back centuries,” said  Robin Mills , a behavioral ecologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

More recently, researchers have studied how the birds achieve superlative speeds. The birds fold their wings to the side, a pose that gives their bodies the aerodynamics of a bullet. Their feathers flare up like fins to fine-tune  their descent:  Scientists who have strapped GPS trackers and cameras to captive peregrine falcons report that the birds steer themselves by the  same principles  missiles use to intercept targets.
In Alaska, Training the Polar Bear Patrol
By Eva Holland/Hakai
Photo by Cheryl Strahl/flickr
Deep twilight settles in over Wales, Alaska. As the last traces of sunset orange give way to blue black on the western horizon, the icy Bering Strait and Siberia beyond are invisible in the night. All is quiet in the tiny village—a cluster of buildings with a single string of streetlights, tucked between frozen hills and frozen sea.

Roughly 200 meters from the beach, a large white shape moves in the shadows between the post office and a snowdrift as high as a house. Suddenly, a snowmobile appears out of the darkness, headlight beaming, heading straight toward the lumbering shape. The two men riding the machine shout and wave their arms in the air, swerving back and forth.

Into the light steps a polar bear. The driver revs his engine, and his passenger yips and hollers, standing tall, waving a high-powered flashlight at the bear. The bear huffs, and for a moment looks like it might hold its ground. Instead, it drops to all fours, turns, and runs around the building. The men on the snowmobile follow, still kicking up all the noise they can muster, driving the bear toward the ocean. In the distance, chained dogs start to bark in chorus.

Once, twice, three times the bear stops and turns to face its pursuers. But each time, the men keep coming, their breath steaming in the icy air.

The pursuit stops abruptly when the bear and the men reach the beach. Then the “bear” straightens up, adjusts his bulky white jacket, and climbs into a trailer hitched to the snowmobile. The Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol has just completed its first practice run of the season.
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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