July 28, 2017

Failing to Plan for Drought Is Planning to Fail
By Andrea Basche/ucsusa.org
Photo by dasroofless/flickr
As the dog days of summer wear on, the northern plains are really feeling the heat. Hot, dry weather has quickly turned into the  nation's worst current drought  in Montana and the Dakotas, and drought conditions are slowly creeping south and east into the heart of the Corn Belt. Another year and another drought presents yet another opportunity to consider how smart public policies could make farmers and rural communities more resilient to these recurring events.

Let's start with what's happening on the ground: Throughout the spring and early summer, much of the western United States has been dry,  receiving less than half of normal rainfall levels . And the hardest hit is North Dakota.  As of last week , 94 percent of the state was was experiencing some level of abnormally dry conditions or drought, with over a quarter of the state in severe or extreme drought (a situation that only occurs  3 to 5 percent of the time , or once every 20 to 30 years).
A Hunter's Lament: Where are the Ducks?
By Dennis Anderson/Star Tribune
Photo by Brian Scott/flickr
Someday a book will be written about the decline and fall of ducks and duck hunting. For anyone who cares about these birds, the tome would be grim reading.

Time was in this country when ducks were a management priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and for state wildlife agencies. Federal duck harvest and other waterfowl data were processed on time, USFWS special agents ensured that hunting and baiting laws were enforced, and the status of midsummer duck production was determined by surveys.

Additionally, weather variations such as the severe drought now gripping the Dakotas were once considerations in setting seasons, because the potholes and uplands of those states represent the best duck-breeding habitat in the Lower 48.

No so any more: In fact, this fall's liberal seasons were established by the service last year.
Quite the Bird Brain: Ravens Can Reason
By William Wan/The Washington Post
Photo by Marilyn Brindley/flickr
For centuries, we told ourselves that we are special - that what separates humans from animals is our ability to reason.

But that belief has been increasingly undermined given evidence showing apes also have the intelligence to use tools, solve complex problems and even plan for the future.

Now the latest indignity: Ravens can do it, too.

On a rural research farm in Sweden, working with birds he raised from hatchlings, cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath recently taught five ravens how to use a tool to open a puzzle-like box containing a treat. He then put his birds through a battery of tests in which they had to choose the tool, despite the temptation of a more immediate goody with the box nowhere in sight.

The birds didn't bite. Only when the box was brought back did they use the tool they had been saving to secure the better reward - demonstrating self-control, advanced reasoning and planning.
You've Got Quail: Why Mail Carriers Survey Wildlife
By Meghan Bartels/Audubon
Photo by Darla Abernathy/flickr
For 15 years, Kathy Short worked as a letter carrier based in Cave City, Kentucky. Each day, she drove 68 miles through three different counties and along the edge of Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world's longest known cave system. Like rural mail carriers across the country, she was a local institution. And for one week a year, she was also the state wildlife department's eyes and ears on the ground.

That's because during her tenure in Cave City, Short took part in Kentucky's annual Rural Mail Carrier Survey, for which she reported how many Northern Bobwhite quail and cottontail rabbits she saw along her route each day that week. The survey, which has been gathering data since 1960, is a crucial tool for the wildlife agency to track populations of these two game species. And for the more than 700 mail carriers who volunteer for the count each year, it's a nice addition to the day's deliveries. "It gives you a chance to pay attention to the beauty around you," Short, who now carries mail for the more urban Bowling Green office, says.

Kentucky's program isn't alone: at least five states have a rural mail-carrier survey, and each state customizes the similar programs to its needs. 
Salopek Update: Eden Walk Resumes in Asia
By Paul Salopek/National Geographic
Photo courtesy of Paul Salopek
After pacing off 6,000 miles of trail out of Africa since 2013, the Out of Eden Walk journey continues. The new compass bearing: across the highest mountains on Earth. The western Himalayas.

From the ancient trading city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, I look back on 1,500 miles of walked Central Asia. Those days already have the sepia quality of a waking dream. Fourteen months ago, on the vast prairies of western Kazakhstan: Three men-my guides Talgat Omarov and Daulet Begendikov, and I-pogoed in circles around our frightened cargo horse, waving our hats to fend off attacks by fierce wild stallions. (From above, I imagine a passing satellite capturing this silent, lunatic, pagan dance: Three dots revolving in a vast ocean of grass.) Ten months ago, in the middle of the Kyzl Kum desert of Uzbekistan: Swaying thirstily atop a red sand hill, I summoned help with a satellite phone; someone had looted our precious water cache. (At my boot tips lay ancient shards of broken water vessels, the relics of some other ill-starred Silk Road caravan.) Seven months ago: A strong-handed sorceress outside the cemetery gates in old Kokand rubbed cotton ash across my chest, banishing every imaginary ailment but the real one, loneliness.

And now, following a long hiatus in Kyrgyzstan-abandoning the writer's desk, and the harsh right angles of city life, with its sharp corners, its unnatural edges, its urban geometry that dents the mind-I re-lace my boots. I squint southeast.

"I've never known an outdoorsman who owned all the gear he thought he needed. Even if he owns it, the odds are that he can't find it."