Industrial agriculture, bats in trouble, and one logging town's fight to save a lookout

Deneen_bread basket

From alumna Sally Deneen, for National Geographic News: Raiding the bread basket: Use and abuse of the Mississippi River Basin A musty smell repels swimmers from some Iowa lakes in summer, when the bodies of water too often turn brown, green, or blue-green.

Researcher John Downing says his state is 92 percent cultivated, sofertilizers seep off croplands into waterways during rains, prompting algae blooms that can harm drinking water and make it tough to boat or catch sport fish. Less than half a pinhead of phosphorus per gallon of water-"a phenomenally tiny quantity," said Downing-is enough to turn a lake bright green.

A fleck of phosphorus fertilizer costs a farmer almost nothing. "But that half pinhead per gallon can cost society millions in lost recreational value and cleanup costs," said Downing, an Iowa State University professor whose water-monitoring group tests 137 Iowa lakes... Read and see more.

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Alumna and freelance writer Michelle Nijhuis shares a post on The Last Word on Nothing blog, about the tragic plight of bats in North America.

Six Million and Counting Last year, I wrote a story for Smithsonian about white-nose syndrome, the fungal disease that’s killing cave-dwelling bats in the eastern United States. Researchers told me about watching sick, confused bats flutter out of caves in the middle of winter; about entering caves literally carpeted with bat carcasses; about picking bat bones, as slender as pine needles, out of their boot treads.

When I reported the story, scientists and wildlife managers estimated that a million bats had died since the epidemic began in early 2007. Baseline data were scarce, and the number was acknowledged to be little better than a guess. Now, after a long process of soliciting expert opinion and extrapolating from existing data, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a new estimate: between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats have died from white-nose syndrome — some 85 percent of all cave-dwelling bats in infected areas.... Read more.

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Recent alumnus Nathan Rice with High Country News reports on a small logging town in Washington and its controversial efforts to save a fire lookout in a wilderness area:

The logging town of Darrington, Wash., fights to save a fire lookout

On a blustery summer night, the Red Top Tavern in Darrington, Wash., is nearly empty. A neon Hamm's beer sign illuminates a picture of a local logger reclining in the bucket of an excavator with the caption "Redneck Hot Tub." Above it hangs a crosscut saw, just like in every bar in every other Northwest timber town. One block down, Skidder's Bar and Grill -- the only other tavern -- was recently boarded up.

Surrounded on three sides by federal land, Darrington was hit hard by the 1990s timber wars with environmentalists that, along with economic factors, curtailed logging in much of the Northwest. Only 75 miles from Seattle, its 1,350 residents had hoped to find a new economy in the hundreds of miles of trails that lace the surrounding mountains... Read more.

Watch the accompanying video, in which former Green Mountain fire lookout "Lightbulb" Winders tells his story.