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Trump Budget Sells Out Wild Horses Again

Animals
Trump Budget Sells Out Wild Horses Again
Desatoya Wild Horse Gather in Nevada. Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration's $1 billion budget request for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeks $66.7 million for the Wild Horse and Burro Management program and a continued push to eliminate annual appropriations bill riders that prohibit the sale or killing of the federally protected animals.

Congress has yet to act on the administration's 2018 budget request, which also requested lifting the appropriations riders.


"The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM's use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act," the Interior Department's plan states, in reference to the 1971 law that calls for the "protection, management and control" of the animals on public land.

"This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds."

For more than a decade, Congress has used appropriations bill riders to prohibit the BLM from spending taxpayer money on "the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of [BLM] or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products."

The BLM uses helicopters to round up thousands of wild horses and burros from public lands each year. About 45,000 captured animals are held in government corrals and pastures, costing taxpayers $50 million annually. Another 67,000 wild horses and burros roam around on federal land.

The bureau asserted last year that a high number of "excess wild horses and burros causes habitat damage that forces animals to leave public lands and travel onto private property or even highways in search of food and water" and requested that Congress remove some restrictions on the sale and disposition of "excess" animals.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) condemned the president's latest budget proposal. The horse advocacy group worries that the animals in holding and those considered "excess" on the range would be killed en masse if Congress were to grant the BLM's budget request.

"The Trump administration continues to defy the will of the American people by proposing the slaughter of America's iconic wild horses and burros," said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

A poll cited by the AWHC showed that 80 percent of Americans—including 86 percent of Trump voters and 77 percent of Clinton voters—oppose the slaughter and mass killing of wild horses and burros.

"The administration's decision to prioritize slaughter over humane management alternatives recommended by the National Academy of Sciences is irresponsible, reckless and politically unacceptable," Roy said.

A 2013 National Academy of Sciences review of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Management program found that a birth control vaccine was among the most safe, effective and economical ways to humanely reduce horse reproductive rates on the range.

But according to the AWHC, the BLM "has refused to use this method in more than a token manner, opting instead for costly and cruel helicopter roundups."

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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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