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A Victory for Oregon Forests and Wildlife in Federal Court

A Victory for Oregon Forests and Wildlife in Federal Court

Earthjustice

People throughout the West are celebrating a Sept. 29 federal court ruling that recommends striking down a plan that abandoned scientific protections for federal public lands in western Oregon and would have opened up those lands to outdated boom-and-bust logging.

The Bush-era plan, called the Western Oregon Plan Revision (known as WOPR and pronounced “whopper”) would have dramatically increased logging on about 2.6 million acres of federal public forests in Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of eight conservation and commercial fishing organizations.

“The judge confirmed what everyone’s been saying for years—that BLM took an illegal short cut to avoid scientific scrutiny of its plan,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. “This decision will finally clear the decks of the flawed WOPR process, return these public forests to scientifically sound management, and let us move forward with both timber harvest and environmental protection.”

The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Hubel found that WOPR was finalized without the required evaluation of federal fish and wildlife scientists on its impacts on threatened and endangered species. Judge Hubel recommended that WOPR be vacated, a ruling that would put the standards and requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan back into place. Judge Hubel’s decision isn't final. There will be a brief period of time for the parties to raise any objections before a separate, reviewing district court judge.

“Protecting these forests is key to recovering Oregon salmon and steelhead," said Chris Frissell, director of science and conservation for Pacific Rivers Council. “BLM’s original decision to issue WOPR was a legal and scientific mistake that we’ve finally been able to undo.”

“This should be the final chapter in the WOPR saga and open the door to balanced forest management,” said Joseph Vaile of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “These public forests protect our climate, produce clean water and sustain world class salmon runs and recreational opportunities that contribute to Oregon’s diverse economy.”

WOPR has been controversial since 2003, when the Bush administration settled a long dormant timber industry lawsuit with the promise to issue a new plan that dramatically increased logging. WOPR was issued in late December 2008. It was administratively withdrawn in 2009 by the Obama administration, but earlier this year, a federal court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the withdrawal was invalid—a decision that reinstated the original WOPR plans. The Sept. 29 decision addresses the substance of WOPR for the first time. In the Portland court, lawyers for BLM agreed that the logging plan illegally ignored requirements designed to protect endangered species and their forest habitat.

“It’s a good day for commercial fishing families and all the businesses up and down the Oregon coast that depend on our salmon, clean water and fresh air,” said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “WOPR was always a bad idea and would have been disastrous for our industry and our jobs.”

“Old growth forests with clean healthy streams drive Oregon’s economic engine and prosperity,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. “With WOPR and its flawed premises out of the way, we can fully commit to restoration thinning of these forests in a way that is supported by sound science and that protects the water, air, fish and wildlife.”

Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center represent Pacific Rivers Council, Oregon Wild, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, The Wilderness Society, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Umpqua Watersheds as plaintiffs in this case.

For more information, click here.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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