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Plan Prioritizes Oil and Gas Drilling over Wildlands Protection

Energy
Plan Prioritizes Oil and Gas Drilling over Wildlands Protection

Colorado Environmental Coalition

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a Final Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Record of Decision for the Little Snake region that shows a vast improvement from Bush administration draft plans but continues to prioritize oil and gas development over all other uses. The clean air, outstanding wildlife habitat and free-flowing rivers in northwest Colorado will continue to face threats from oil and gas drilling in the final management plan released Oct. 17.

“While we are pleased to see Vermillion Basin protected, we are dismayed that the plan still opens around 90 percent of the resource area to oil and gas drilling, leaving 10 percent for the myriad other uses of these amazing lands,” said Soren Jespersen of The Wilderness Society.

According to the plan, around 90 percent of land and minerals managed by the Little Snake Field Office will continue to be available for oil and gas drilling. In addition, less than 8 percent of the field office will be closed to off-road vehicle use. With some of North America’s largest elk and mule deer herds, Colorado’s largest populations of the imperiled greater sage-grouse, nearly 300,000 acres of proposed wilderness, and the iconic Yampa River, the Little Snake Resource Area is an American treasure that will continue to face wildlife threats from increased drilling in the region.

“The draft plan—put out under the Bush administration—completely ignored the desires of the citizens of northwest Colorado and Americans in general to have a public land management that balanced energy development with the protection of our clean air, clean water and wildlife habitats,” said Soren Jespersen, northwest Colorado wildlands coordinator with The Wilderness Society in Craig, Colo. “The last administration set the bar so low, that although this final plan is a vast improvement, it still does not do enough to protect the amazingly unique natural resources of northwest Colorado.”

This RMP is one of the first in the country to be finalized under the Obama administration and does strive to protect many of the unique wilderness-quality lands in the area such as Vermillion Basin, Cold Springs Mountain and Diamond Breaks. The plan also found that 22 miles of the Yampa River are suitable for inclusion in the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers system, good news to the thousands of visitors that come to the region every year to float or fish on this iconic western river.

“The Yampa River provides world-famous recreational opportunities in Dinosaur National Monument and Cross Mountain and provides critical habitat for endangered Colorado River fish species,” said Ken Brenner, board president at Friends of the Yampa in Steamboat Springs. “We need to see the river recommended to Congress for permanent protection. Merely finding the river suitable—without actively recommending it to Congress—is not enough to protect the largest free-flowing river in the Colorado River system from its immediate threats, although it is an important recognition of the Yampa’s outstanding values.”

The BLM made an unprecedented effort to engage the public in this process, hear their desires and concerns, and craft a plan that reflected them. However, the final decision makes it clear that oil and gas development is unfortunately still the priority.

”The BLM did an excellent job of reaching out to the public and soliciting input on how these public lands should be managed," said Sasha Nelson of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, also in Craig, Colo. “And in Colorado the public resoundingly supports protecting the public lands that provide us with the clean air, pure drinking water, and wildlife habitats that make Colorado famous. Unfortunately, the BLM did not go far enough in answering Coloradoans' desires to see these important lands protected.”

Recreation is also poised to be hurt by the BLM’s plan, says Scott Braden of the Colorado Mountain Club. “Recreation—including hunting and fishing—is an important economic driver in Colorado and protected public lands and rivers are a pillar of this recreation. Each year these lands attract thousands of visitors who come to the region to hike and camp, raft and kayak, and who often stick around to start businesses and families. This plan does not do enough to protect these attractions.”

For more information, click here.

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The Wilderness Society is the leading public-lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org

Colorado Environmental Coalition is Colorado’s voice for conservation since 1965. www.ourcolorado.org

Friends of the Yampa strives to protect and enhance the environmental and recreational integrity of the Yampa River, its basin, and its tributaries through stewardship, advocacy, partnerships and education. www.friendsoftheyampa.com

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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