Congress seeks species law changes after grizzly hunt barred
By MATTHEW BROWN
Thursday, September 27
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Galvanized by court rulings protecting grizzly bears and gray wolves, Congressional Republicans on Wednesday pushed sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act despite strong objections from Democrats and wildlife advocates who called the effort a “wildlife extinction package.”
Republicans began with a morning vote in the House Natural Resource Committee to strip protections from gray wolves across the contiguous U.S.
Courts restored safeguards for wolves in the Great Lakes region in 2014, frustrating states that had been allowing hunts to control wolf populations.
Later Wednesday, lawmakers took up changes to the endangered species law itself, with a suite of bills that supporters said would make the law work better and eliminate obstacles to economic progress.
Critics said the measures weaken the law by shifting power to state and local governments and away from federal scientists.
Momentum for change to the 1973 act has been building since President Donald Trump took office last year. Adding impetus to the effort was a court ruling Monday in Montana that restored protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, putting on hold grizzly hunts that had been planned in Wyoming and Idaho.
“This ruling in Montana to me is the prime example of why Congress should modernize the Endangered Species Act,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. “The grizzly bear has been fully recovered for 10 years. Even the Obama administration said so.”
Barrasso said he prefers broad changes to the act rather than legislation on individual species. He has drafted legislation that includes a provision to block courts from intervening in decisions to lift protections for five years after those decisions are made. That would have prevented the grizzly ruling if it had been in place.
Other Republican proposals would speed up the process of deciding if species need protections, provide conservation incentives to landowners and give state, local and tribal governments more power in species decisions.
The hunts in Wyoming and Idaho would have been the first allowing members of the public with licenses to shoot bears in the contiguous U.S. since the 1990s. Alaska has had public grizzly bear hunting during that period.
Whether the GOP proposals ultimately succeed could hinge on who controls Congress next year. Barrasso said he does not expect significant changes to the act until after the November midterm election.
The ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva said the Republican proposals comprised a “wish list” for industries that see the law as a barrier to development.
He said blocking lawsuits from wildlife advocates who would seek to restore protections could set a dangerous precedent, by making the government unaccountable in court for its actions.
Democrats also took aim at the move to lift protections for wolves and questioned the severity of wolf attacks on livestock. Federal protections for wolves and bears are a sore spot in many rural communities, where the predators frequently are blamed in livestock attacks.
Both species were nearly exterminated in the early 20th century but have rebounded in some areas since passage of the endangered act, which is meant to shield plants and animals from potential extinction.
“Domestic dogs cause more cattle losses than wolves do, and nobody’s talking about trapping (and) hunting dogs,” said Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, referring to U.S. Agriculture reports on predator losses.
Wolves in the Northern Rockies are not federally-protected and are subject to hunting.
On grizzly bears, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney wants Congress to reverse U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling, which returned Yellowstone bruins to the threatened species list after they were removed last year.
The judge faulted federal wildlife officials for not giving enough consideration to bear populations that continue to struggle elsewhere in the Northern Rockies.
A spokeswoman for Cheney, Maddy Weast, said the lawmaker was looking for the best way to advance the measure. The grizzly hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho this fall would have allowed up to 23 of the animals to be killed.
Hunters said that could have helped address rising numbers of grizzly-human conflicts. Bears frequently attack livestock and occasionally people, including a Wyoming hunting guide killed by a pair of grizzlies earlier this month outside Grand Teton National Park.
Defenders of Wildlife attorney Jason Rylander acknowledged grizzly bears and wolves have become a flashpoint for dispute, but said politics should not decide a species’ fate.
“In both the cases of grizzly bears and wolves, work on recovering them in the Lower 48 is not complete,” Rylander said. “We have to decide if we’re willing as a nation to recover them beyond the pockets where they have been resurgent.”
Jonathan Wood with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, said Monday’s court ruling on grizzlies amplified “the political appeal” for changes to the law that he said were needed.
“The Obama administration had no more luck getting the gray wolf or grizzly delisted (from federal protections) than the Bush administration did. This is a consistent problem,” Wood said.
Under Trump, the U.S. Interior and Commerce departments in July proposed administrative changes to the species law that would end automatic protections for threatened plants and animals and set limits on designating habitat as crucial to recovery.
Attorneys general from 10 states on Tuesday demanded that the administration abandon the proposals in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MatthewBrownAP .
Officials: Hunter shot grizzlies in Montana in self-defense
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials say a hunter along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front shot and killed a female grizzly bear and wounded a cub that was later euthanized.
Grizzlies are protected in the Lower 48 states as a threatened species. Investigators determined the hunter acted in self-defense, meaning he won’t face charges.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said the bow hunter was in thick brush along a creek on Wednesday when he came across the animals at the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area northwest of Choteau.
The hunter shot the animals with a pistol, killing the adult and injuring the 2-year-old cub, which was later killed by officials due to its injuries.
Earlier this week, a bow hunter on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation shot and killed a grizzly that attacked him.
Fort Collins seed vault preserves world collection of plants
By JACOB LAXEN
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Thursday, September 27
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — As climate change jeopardizes the world’s doomsday seed vault near the North Pole, a similar Fort Collins facility continues to stock up its collection.
The modern-day Noah’s Ark, located on the campus of Colorado State University, houses more than 850,000 plant seeds and materials, as well as various DNA samples from about 160 breeds of livestock.
Like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway — which needs a $12.7 million upgrade to combat melting permafrost — the Fort Collins vault is meant to preserve plant types in case they are wiped out by natural or man-made disasters.
The facility, formally known as the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation, is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The whole point is we are saving the resources for the world,” said Gayle Volk, a scientist at the Fort Collins seed vault for the past 19 years.
The Fort Collins seed vault was built by the federal government in 1953 — decades before the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The Choice City was chosen because of the dry climate and adjacent university.
The building has thick cement walls and is specifically designed to withstand natural disasters like tornadoes or severe flooding if Horsetooth Reservoir were to break.
Backup generators are installed to guarantee complete climate control. An actual vault locks in the country’s largest seed collection every night, and only a handful of the site’s 40 employees know the combination.
“This building has the ability to handle catastrophes, and that’s really important,” said Harvey Blackburn, a scientist at the Fort Collins facility for the past 19 years.
The seeds and animal matter are preserved either in cooler rooms set to minus-18 degrees Celsius or submerged in liquid nitrogen inside of stainless steel tanks. Some plants, like apples, have their twigs saved because those trees grow from grafting and not directly from seeds. Small portions of roots are saved from some plants, like strawberries.
Staff are continually testing the stored seed and plant matter to make sure they are still alive.
“As you go from one species of a plant to another, it requires a different set of technique,” Blackburn said. “And we are constantly refining our technique here.”
Some seeds in the collection are nearly a century old — 90-year-old cotton seeds from the facility were recently grown as part of a research project.
A famous 1940s experiment started in California is now housed at the facility. Test tubes containing those seeds are tested regularly and many have survived.
All new seed patents in the U.S. — like the GMO varieties made by Monsanto — are also required to be stored in the vault.
“We work for scientists of the future but also with scientists of the past,” said research leader Christina Walters, who has worked at the Fort Collins vault for three decades.
The collection in Fort Collins serves as the basis of research for scientists around the world. A third of the requests for seeds come from outside of the U.S.
Rare wild ancestor plant seeds are stored and offer crucial genetic clues to researchers. Some specific plants, like corn, have their entire evolution preserved in Fort Collins.
As humans have domesticated seeds, they have gone from being small and dark to bigger and lighter.
Seeds from the Fort Collins vaults have specifically helped scientists create wheat resistant to a harmful disease called Russian Wheat Aphid, more efficient corn and better harvests of sunflowers, corn and chickpeas.
The animal matter has also been used to reintroduce two Y chromosomes to Holstein cow breeders and helped farmers fight a lethal mutation that was found in Angus cattle.
“We are working collaboratively with breeders to help solve these problems,” Volk said.
About 700 people come tour the Fort Collins vault every year. Many of the visitors are from other countries. A group earlier this month featured people representing 24 different countries.
Scientists from Fort Collins often travel around the world to share insights and collect new items for the vault, preserving history and protecting the future of plants from around the world.
“This takes an international effort,” Walters said.
Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com
Arrival of Arctic air may deliver 1st snowflakes of season in North Central states this week
A direct discharge of Arctic air will sweep through the Canadian Prairies and into the far northern Plains late this week and into the weekend. People across the region may be breaking out winter attire and turning on the heaters for the first time this year.
AccuWeather Global Weather Center – September 27, 2018 – Cold air will plunge into the north-central United States by week’s end, possibly bringing the first snowflakes of the season to some communities.
People across the region may be breaking out winter attire and turning on the heaters for the first time this year.
A direct discharge of Arctic air will sweep through the Canadian Prairies and into the far northern Plains late this week and into the weekend, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.
Cool Air Advances
The cold sweep reached the northern Plains on Thursday and is forecast to plunge across the Great Lakes and a portion of the central Plains during Thursday night and Friday.
Compared to earlier this week, temperatures will be slashed by up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit across much of Montana, the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, with highs projected to stay in the 40s and lower 50s.
Killer whales: why more than half world’s orcas are threatened by leftover industrial chemicals
September 27, 2018
Reader in Environmental Chemistry, Lancaster University
Crispin Halsall receives funding from NERC.
Lancaster University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
More than half of the world’s killer whales are threatened by a group of toxic industrial chemicals that accumulate in their blubber and can be passed on from mother to calf. That’s according to a new study led by scientists in Denmark and published in the journal Science. Killer whale populations found in the most polluted seas around Japan, Brazil, the UK or in the northeast Pacific, the authors report, are “tending toward complete collapse”.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a ghost from the past. These chemicals were produced in immense quantities from the 1930s onwards and were broadly phased out in the 1970s/1980s as environmental concerns grew.
As they were very stable and were unable to conduct an electrical current (and therefore excellent insulators), they were mainly used in the electrical supply industry. These same properties also saw them being used in a whole array of miscellaneous applications including as sealants and additives in construction.
It is this chemical stability that means PCBs stubbornly refuse to degrade in the environment and I have spent the past 25 years studying how these and other contaminants end up accumulating in the Arctic, for instance. However, there are two other properties that make these particular chemicals uniquely problematic, unlike, say, common air pollutants or most heavy metals.
The first is that PCBs are semi-volatile, which means that over time they can evaporate into the atmosphere but then later deposit on surfaces when encountering cooler temperatures or with rainfall or attached to particles. Over decades this continued evaporation and deposition (termed “cycling”) has ensured that they’re smeared around the entire planet. PCBs are just as likely to be found deep in the ocean or in Arctic snow as they are in neighbourhood soils, although the concentrations in soil close to “primary sources” such as cities may be orders of magnitude higher.
The second problem is that PCBs tend to work their way up the food web, accumulating in ever higher concentrations as tiny animals (and their unwanted chemicals) are eaten by small animals, who are eaten by larger animals (who take on those same chemicals), and so on. This process of “biomagnification” is most evident in marine food webs where fatty tissue like blubber (a home for PCBs) is an important feature of animals at the top of the food web such as killer whales.
New diets mean new exposure
So, if the chemicals were largely phased out in the early 1980s, why are they continuing to cause a problem? It’s true that background concentrations have declined over the past 20 years or so, based on measurements of PCBs in the air in animals such as seabirds and even in human breastmilk. But the trend varies from place to place and between different species, and there is evidence that climate change is disturbing the “cycling” of these chemicals, potentially slowing the rate of environmental decline.
Furthermore, complex foodwebs in northern oceans, particularly around Europe and North America (where most PCBs were produced and used) are undergoing subtle alterations. Predators like sharks, large fish or killer whales are changing their diets and exploiting new prey, which in turn alters their exposure to PCBs and other contaminants.
PCBs are here for some time to come
What can be done? Unfortunately, the horse has bolted as such and it would implausible to remove “background levels” of PCBs from the world’s oceans.
The key objective now is to maintain surveillance of these chemicals, whether they be in air, water, soil or animals. In most developed countries, end-of-life action ensures that old industrial materials with PCBs are subject to high temperature incineration (an effective way of ensuring complete destruction). Similarly, grossly contaminated industrial sites or dumps are subject to expensive clean-up and incineration activities.
But, while this is effective and safe at a local level, such measures will account for only a very small fraction of the total PCB inventory, most of which is out in the wild. International efforts by organisations like the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) are ensuring that member states are undertaking “stocktaking” activities, containing old storage or dump sites, and undertaking monitoring programmes. This is particularly important across parts of Asia and key states of the former Soviet Union, where PCB production and use was also high.
The legacy of PCBs will continue to haunt us for some while to come. Scientists estimate that the final resting place or “sink” for PCBs is likely to be organic rich soils across the Northern Hemisphere or even ocean sediments. However, in the meantime, PCBs continue to cycle around the environment and are still present in mother’s milk. Maternal transfer from adult female to calf is the key exposure route for most marine mammals and this chemical stress (supplemented by an array of chemical pollutants other than PCBs), alongside climate change induced stress, is a major concern.
Mapping the 100 trillion cells that make up your body
September 26, 2018
Professor of Medicine , University of Florida
Mark Atkinson receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, JDRF, American Diabetes Association, and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. He is the President of Insulin for Life-USA, a not-for-profit organization seeking to provide type 1 diabetes management supplies to those in need.
University of Florida
University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
There are about 100 trillion cells that make up the human body. A new megascience endeavor will catalog and image each of the 200 or more types of cells from the 80 known organs and identify the genes that are active in these cells.
This new effort follows on the heels of the Human Genome Project that engulfed biology during the 1990s and early 2000s. Now scientists have conceived a new and exciting challenge: to create a cellular map of the entire human body, a project called the Human BioMolecular Atlas Program, or HuBMAP. The University of Florida is one of five participating tissue mapping centers. Here at the UF Center we are charged with mapping the thymus, lymph node, and spleen – all key components of the immune system.
I have been studying Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, for nearly 35 years and along with my other colleagues at the UF Diabetes Institute have been trying to find a way to prevent and cure the disease. This has been a challenge as until recently, because we didn’t know what caused Type 1 diabetes.
Our goal as a tissue mapping center is to identify the unique types of cells, which proteins they produce and which genes are turned on, and build a virtual three-dimensional model of each organ. This map will inform the research of many diseases, including Type 1 diabetes.
Why is understanding the causes of Type 1 diabetes important?
We know that Type 1 diabetes is a so-called “autoimmune disorder.” In Type 1 diabetes, immune cells known as “T lymphocytes” are thought to destroy the pancreatic beta cells that are responsible for producing insulin, which regulates the level of sugar in our blood.
Just over a decade ago, frustrated by the inability to prevent and cure the disease, I started an initiative to collect human pancreases from organ donors with Type 1 diabetes as well as those without the disease. The latter group was collected to provide an understanding of a “normal” healthy pancreas. To date, we have collected the pancreas from more than 500 individuals. We have distributed these tissues to some 230 projects in 21 countries around the world. The results of this effort have led to new discoveries that have rewritten our understanding about how this disease develops.
Diabetes mellitus Type 1. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system erroneously destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which leads to high glucose levels in the blood, called hyperglycemia. Though Type 1 diabetes represents only 10 percent of all diabetes worldwide, it is most often diagnosed in children and adolescents; hence, patients face a lifelong need for insulin. At onset, patients generally experience high blood sugar, unexplained weight loss, and excessive thirst and hunger. Even with appropriate treatment, most patients eventually develop complications affecting the kidneys, feet, eyes and cardiovascular health. Designua/Shuterstock.com
Patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, some 25,000 per year in the U.S. alone, face a lifelong dependence on daily insulin injections in order to survive and have a high risk of developing long-term medical complications including blindness, kidney disease, numb feet, limb amputations and cardiovascular disease. Today, it is estimated that nearly 1.25 million people in the U.S. live with this disorder.
As upsetting as these complications are for individuals with the disease, perhaps even more daunting are the many daily lifestyle factors that must be controlled or accounted for to keep the disease in check: monitoring carbohydrates, estimating exercise, evaluating blood sugar levels, and administering insulin to avoid both high and low blood glucose levels. These represent just a few of the daily disease associated challenges.
For these reasons, the goal of our collective research efforts at the UF Diabetes Institute has always been to understand what causes this disease. Knowing that would enable us to predict who is at risk, identify ways to prevent the progression of the disease, and develop a curative therapy.
Why study these organs?
Type 1 diabetes is but one of more than 80 known autoimmune diseases that, for reasons unknown, the immune system turns against itself. Beyond autoimmunity, immune responses are also a key constituent to health in terms of fighting cancer and infectious disease. From our experience studying the pancreas and Type 1 diabetes, we see great strides in understanding the role for immunity in each of these settings through mapping. It will allow for a deep dive of how the immune system works.
In a healthy individual, T cells only become active when responding to infection or cancer cells. But in those predisposed to autoimmune disease, certain T cells can become erroneously activated by “self” proteins, leading them to destroy healthy tissue.
In other circumstances – like cancer or infectious disease – the immune system fails to provide a robust enough response to be effective. Or cells of the immune system proliferate uncontrollably, leading to blood and lymphatic cancers like lymphomas and leukemias. This is why the thymus, spleen and lymph node are tissues of interest for those studying the healthy human immune system. Researchers need to understand the healthy baseline for all these organs so that we can recognize when things begin to malfunction and change, leading to autoimmune disease, cancer and infectious disease. Expressed another way, we first need to understand what constitutes the normal lymphatic system throughout the human lifespan.
Why is defining normal important?
You might wonder where exactly we get these normal cells. As we have done over the past 11 years, we will obtain transplant-grade human tissues from deceased organ donors through Organ Procurement Organizations, after a family member or legal executor provides informed consent. Given at a time of grieving, these precious anatomical gifts, which in the case of spleen, thymus and lymph node, are not usable for lifesaving transplantation procedures, provide an inimitable resource for scientific investigation and discovery.
Only tissues considered “normal” – unaffected by known or observable pathologies – will be included in these initial studies. We will be collecting tissues from donors ranging from infants to adults up to 70 years old. We hope this will provide insights into how age alters the types and health of all the cells in each organ.
At the UF Diabetes Institute a multidisciplinary team including cellular and molecular biologists, hematopathologists who study clinical lymphatic samples, biomedical engineers, immunologists and many others will collaborate for the HuBMAP program. Indeed, the UF tissue mapping center will collaborate extensively with a global network of experts in cutting-edge microscopy and data collection.
We are establishing an imaging pipeline to detect dozens of protein and RNA molecules that characterize nerve, blood vessel, the supportive tissue known as stroma, and immune cells from slices of tissue, using eight different forms of microscopy.
Within HuBMAP’s first two years, we plan to map the spleen, thymus and lymph node from 11 organ donors.
We expect that the resulting data will reveal new cell types, molecular and cellular structures, cell-cell interactions and their functional implications in human anatomy and physiology. Hence, the high-resolution, three-dimensional Human BioMolecular Atlas Program is expected to facilitate discovery.
As I hit my late 50s in life, the number of colleagues, friends and family members that are impacted by disease increases annually. I also recently became a grandfather. I would like to think what we propose to do will have a dramatic impact on human health for both current and future generations. That would be a legacy gift.