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Trump Advisory Panel Suggests Bringing More Private Business Into National Parks

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Trump Advisory Panel Suggests Bringing More Private Business Into National Parks
California Yosemite River Scene. Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

An advisory panel appointed by Trump's first Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has recommended privatizing National Parks campgrounds, allowing food trucks in and setting up WiFi at campgrounds while also reducing benefits to seniors, according to the panel's memo.


The advisory committee, the Subcommittee on Recreation Enhancement Through Reorganization, passed its recommendations along to Interior Sec. David Bernhardt. It is part of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, which Zinke to "advise the Secretary of the Interior on public-private partnerships across all public lands," according to The Hill.

The draftees suggest that the Senior Pass, which is an $80 lifetime pass to people 62 and over and entitles them to a 50 percent discount on campgrounds, have some blackout dates that would void their discounts. The memo also suggests generating revenue by renting out cabins and having vendors rent out tents and other camping equipment within the national parks.

The memo lists food trucks and mobile vendors as part of its innovative management strategy and it suggests offering mobile connectivity throughout parks, not just at campgrounds.

The Federal government has a long history of not providing adequate funding to the National Parks System, which has created a $12 billion maintenance backlog, according to The Hill.

Drafters of the plan say their suggestions are a roadmap to a much-needed upgrade of deteriorating infrastructure that will attract a younger, more diverse audience.

Already, several private campgrounds and private businesses exist within the National Parks. Zinke expressed a desire to expand private business in the National Parks, arguing that he did not want his department in the business of running campgrounds, as National Parks Traveler reported.

Bernhardt, a former Republican operative and corporate lobbyist and now the Secretary of the Interior, oversees all 419 national parks. He has argued for an increase in private enterprise in the national parks, since the money for maintenance is easily found outside the federal government, as Yahoo News reported.

Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition wrote the memo. He told Yahoo News that it has been approved by the necessary committees and will be endorsed by Bernhardt soon.

However, A spokesman for the Department of the Interior, contradicted that assessment. "We have not received formal recommendations from the committee for the department's consideration. We'll review the report once we receive it and respond accordingly," according to Yahoo News.

Critics were aghast at the suggestions in the memo, seeing it as a cash-grab that threatened the sanctity of America's national parks.

"Trump's scheme to privatize national parks means one thing: the park-going public's money will go to connected special interests and campaign donors instead of supporting the parks themselves. Selling out our national parks for Trump's own pork barrel political gains is something that Americans simply won't stand for," Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, a conservation group, in a release that Common Dreams reported.

Joel Pannell, Associate Director of Sierra Club Outdoors for All, was similarly critical of the recommendations.

"Now the Trump administration is trying to pass a fee hike under the radar, and pave the way for full privatization of our national parks," he said in a statement. "Turning our national parks into profit centers for a select few vendors would rob our public lands of just what makes them special. Hiking fees and limiting discounts for seniors will shut out working families and elders on fixed incomes. We will not allow the embattled Trump administration to turn our national parks into playgrounds for the wealthy and privileged, or permit companies that financially support the Trump campaign to profit from privatization of our public lands. Park lovers and outdoor advocates across the nation will rise up in resistance."

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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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