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Gray Wolf pups in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. S.J. Krasemann / Photolibrary / Getty Images Plus

The Trump administration announced on Thursday that gray wolves will no longer receive protection under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States.

The Trump administration announced on Thursday that gray wolves will no longer receive protection under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States.


Gray wolves were on the brink of extinction when they were one of the first animals to receive protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Their numbers had dropped to nearly 1,000 as farmers hunted and poisoned them since the wolves posed a threat to livestock, according to The Guardian. Now, the U.S. Department of the Interior believes the gray wolf has rebounded well enough that its protections should be left to the states and to tribes.

“Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt in a statement. “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”

In total, there are roughly 6,000 gray wolves living mostly in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There are an estimated additional 1,800 present in other states in the West, according to The Washington Post.

Biologists contend that the wolves’ comeback is not complete since they occupy a small portion of the land they once roamed. Large swaths of land in Utah, Colorado and Maine that were once habitat for wolves are now completely devoid of them.

Some critics see the move as a blatantly political maneuver by Trump to wrangle support in the upper Midwest, where polls show him trailing.

“Wolves will be shot and killed because Donald Trump is desperate to gin up his voters in the Midwest,” said Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, in a statement, as CNN reported. “Secretary Bernhardt’s nakedly political theater announcing the end to wolf protections in a battleground state days before the election shows just how corrupt and self-serving the Trump administration is.”

The final rule will be officially published on Tuesday, Election Day, and then go into effect 60 days after that.

One area of concern is that scientists, tasked with a mandatory independent review, alerted the Fish and Wildlife Services to objections they had about stripping protections from the gray wolves. Four out of the five scientists on the independent review panel raised serious concerns. One reviewer told The New York Times that the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the genetic variations within the gray wolf species, which is crucial to their ability to adapt to threats like the climate crisis.

Another reviewer told The New York Times he was concerned that the decision did not take into account how many wolves would be killed by people.

“I predict that the consequence of the inaccurate risk assessment is that gray wolves are not secure in the Western Great Lakes,” wrote Adrian Treves, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a follow-up memo to the federal Office of Management and Budget, “and the federal government will have to re-list them again, either by federal court mandate or after another wolf population crash.”

Activists have successfully used the courts in the past to thwart previous attempts to delist the gray wolf and have vowed to do so again.

“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney, in a statement. “Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court.”

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The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).


The asteroid is round and black and larger than the Empire State Building. It is one of the most threatening to Earth, as it has a 1-in-2,700 chance of colliding with the planet, the AP reported.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx initially lost some of the sample due to a jammed lid. The asteroid’s rocks wedged an opening that allowed some of the sample to drift off into space, CNN reported.

OSIRIS-REx initially had trouble with the lid after it grabbed more asteroid material than had been required. According to the AP, scientists believe the spacecraft took about four pounds of rock when the minimum requirement was about an ounce. A significant amount of that initial haul drifted away.

“Even though my heart breaks for the loss of sample, it turned out to be a pretty cool science experiment and we’re learning a lot,” said lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, the AP reported.

The mission team had to work around the clock for two days to ensure a successful sample collection and storage process. They then had to carefully calibrate the alignment of the lid and capsule to keep the sample properly sealed.

The scientists decided not to weigh the sample, but based on visual images, Lauretta estimates that at least two pounds of sample made it into the capsule, CBS News reported. “But of course, we have to wait till 2023 to open up the [capsule] and be sure,” Lauretta said.

“This achievement by OSIRIS-REx on behalf of NASA and the world has lifted our vision to the higher things we can achieve together, as teams and nations,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a NASA statement. “Together a team comprising industry, academia and international partners, and a talented and diverse team of NASA employees with all types of expertise, has put us on course to vastly increase our collection on Earth of samples from space. Samples like this are going to transform what we know about our universe and ourselves, which is at the base of all NASA’s endeavors.”

OSIRIS-REx will now linger by Bennu until at least March 2021. Its return trip hinges on the asteroid and Earth aligning in order to maximize fuel efficiency, CNN reported.

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Vampire bats avoid other bats when they're feeling unwell. Uwe Schmidt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 4.0

Scientists found that vampire bats in the wild will socially distance when they feel sick, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Scientists found that vampire bats in the wild will socially distance when they feel sick, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.


Researchers had noticed that sick bats will practice social distancing in a lab setting, but wanted to know if the same thing happened in the wild. To figure out how sick bats in the wild behaved, researchers captured bats from a hollow tree in Belize and injected them with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). This made the bats feel sick without actually infecting them with a pathogen.

The researchers then affixed sensors to the sick bats and a placebo group to see how they interacted.

“The proximity sensors gave us an amazing new window into how the social behavior of these bats changed from hour to hour and even minute to minute during the course of the day and night, even while they are hidden in the darkness of a hollow tree,” Simon Ripperger, co-lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at The Ohio State University, said in a statement.

The scientists found that the sick bats spent less time with other bats, including those that were more social with others. This distancing effect declined after the sick bats felt better.

Researchers also noticed that the limited interactions were not just because the sick bats were together. The sick bats avoided other sick bats more than they avoided healthy bats in the control group, MarketWatch reported. In general, bats that did not feel well tended to self-isolate. “Sickness behavior can therefore slow the spread of a pathogen that is transmitted at higher probability with higher rates of physical contact (e.g., grooming) or closer proximity,” the study found.

The results confirmed what previous studies had revealed in lab situations where bats injected with LPS “slept more, moved less, engaged in social grooming with fewer partners in a flight cage, spent less time grooming neighboring bats when forced into close association, and produced fewer contact calls that attract affiliated groupmates,” according to the study.

MarketWatch reported how social distancing in the animal world is commonly practiced to control infectious diseases. For example, bees will remove sick colony members and chimpanzees will ostracize other chimps who appear contagious.

Unfortunately for humans, COVID-19 social distancing protocols require avoiding others even when we feel healthy.

“Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we feel fine, doesn’t feel particularly normal,” Ripperger said in a statement. “But when we’re sick, it’s common to withdraw a bit and stay in bed longer because we’re exhausted. And that means we’re likely to have fewer social encounters,” he said.

Just like the bats in the study. “And it can be expected that they reduce the spread of disease as a result,” Ripperger added.

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