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Illegal Pot Farms Are 'Silently Killing' Endangered Wildlife

Illegal Pot Farms Are 'Silently Killing' Endangered Wildlife

Researchers at the University of California released a study yesterday indicating that rat poisons increasingly pose a significant risk for California’s imperiled Pacific fishers, small forest-dwelling mammals that are protected under the California Endangered Species Act. The study shows that increasing numbers of fishers are being exposed to and dying from greater varieties of rat poisons, or rodenticides, found at illegal marijuana farms. It also affirms reports and data from across the state that rodenticides continue to poison and kill numerous California wildlife species.

Poisons from illegal marijuana grow sites are killing increasing numbers of fishers in California. Here, Mourad Gabriel of the Integral Ecology Research Center stands among all the trash at a illegal marijuana grow site in Northern California. Photo credit: Mark Higley / Hoopa Valley Tribal Forestry

“These poisons are silently killing our country’s most majestic wildlife by indiscriminately causing animals to literally bleed to death from the inside out,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to ban these poisons from the market to protect fishers, bald eagles, great horned owls and kit foxes from a painful, gruesome fate.”

Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death. These slow-acting poisons are often eaten for several days by rats and mice, causing the toxins to accumulate in their tissues and poisoning predators that eat the weakened rodents. Other types of rodenticides threatening wildlife include neurotoxins and poisons that calcify soft tissue.

“Fishers are the flagship species,” said Mourad Gabriel. “We have to think of so many species, like Sierra Nevada red foxes, spotted owls, martens—they all are potentially at risk. This is essentially going to get worse unless we do something to rectify this threat.”

Previous studies by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have documented rodenticides in more than 75 percent of wildlife tested, including eagles, owls, bobcats, mountain lions, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and 30 other wildlife species. Even after California took steps in July 2014 to reduce exposure from certain types of rodenticides, exposure and poisoning by rodenticides remains prolific.

The new study was led by Mourad Gabriel, formerly at the University of California Davis and now at the Integral Ecology Research Center in California. Exposure rates in fishers to rodenticides increased from 79 percent in 2012 to 85 percent in the most recent study. Necropsies of fishers confirmed as many as six different rodenticides in one animal. Some of the chemicals found were considered safer alternatives to other commercially available rodenticides, but they nonetheless killed fishers.

This fisher, brought to UC-Davis for a necropsy, was poisoned by anticoagulant rodenticide (rat poison) found on an illegal marijuana grow site in Northern California. Photo credit: UC-Davis

“Fishers are the flagship species,” said Gabriel. “We have to think of so many species, like Sierra Nevada red foxes, spotted owls, martens—they all are potentially at risk. This is essentially going to get worse unless we do something to rectify this threat.”

Safe alternatives to rat poison can be used to address rodent outbreaks in homes and rural areas. Effective measures include rodent-proofing by sealing cracks and crevices and eliminating food sources in homes, providing owl boxes to encourage natural predation on farms and utilizing traps that don’t involve these highly toxic chemicals. For more information visit SafeRodentControl.org.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

A large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of southeast Mauritius on Aug. 6, 2020. AFP via Getty Images

The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

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This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

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An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

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Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

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