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Trump Plan to Ramp Up Fracking, Mining in National Forests Threatens Climate

Climate
Trump Plan to Ramp Up Fracking, Mining in National Forests Threatens Climate
San Juan National Forest. Scrubhiker (USCdyer) / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

The Trump administration's plan to make it easier for industry to frack and mine in national forests would endanger the climate, wildlife and watersheds, the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups said in comments submitted Monday to the U.S. Forest Service.


"The Forest Service shouldn't be complicit in the Trump administration's assault on America's public lands at the behest of fossil-fuel and mining companies," said Taylor McKinnon, a public-lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "More fracking and mining, with fewer safeguards, would be disastrous for national forests and watersheds. Instead of weakening protections, Trump should clean up the mess the mining industry has already left behind in our forests."

Analysis by Kara Clauser, Center for Biological Diversity, based on U.S. Interior Department data.

A Center for Biological Diversity analysis of federal oil and gas volume estimates shows that, outside of wilderness areas and national monuments, national forests contain 1.8 billion barrels of oil and 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That would produce 2.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution if fully developed—the equivalent of annual emissions from 601 coal-fired power plants.

The proposed Forest Service oil and gas rulemaking would align its procedures with controversial new Bureau of Land Management policies that have been temporarily halted by a federal court because they prevent public input. The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations are calling on the agency to improve transparency and public involvement in decisions about drilling, fracking and mining in national forests. The groups also want the Service to fully account for the toll fossil-fuel extraction and mining would take on public health, public lands, wildlife and the climate.

"Pushing new fossil-fuel development in our national forests ignores the alarm bells that world climate scientists rang loudly last week," said McKinnon. "National forests and public lands are where we should stop fossil-fuel expansion first."

On mining, the Trump administration has sought to use policies like "critical minerals" to justify weakening protections, which would worsen mining pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of western watershed headwaters, most of which are in national forests, are already polluted with mining waste. The mining industry leads the nation in toxic releases from mines, which create permanent scars on the landscape.

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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