May 21, 2014

Hogs produce a lot of waste. Can they peacefully coexist with a watershed?     Photo: the guitar mann/Getty Images

Hog Farm Threatens National River

Arkansas residents concerned about waste, E. coli

Arkansas' Buffalo River was the first named national river in the United States, but its waters might be in danger. Locals and environmental groups were shocked at the end of 2013 when the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) allowed an industrial hog farm to set up just six miles from the river. Today, a battle between the farm and its opponents continues as protests, water quality research, and behind-the-scenes conflicts emerge.

C&H Hog Farms will house 6,500 pigs to supply pork for the Cargill food processing company. Supporters of the farm say that hog farms have existed near watersheds with no impact on their waters. ADEQ director Teresa Marks told the New York Times that some of the farm's waste could reach the Buffalo River, but she was not concerned about environmental harm.

Supporters of the river are not convinced. Representatives of public interest groups assert that the farm is an economic disaster. According to a letter released by Earthjustice, C&H received a federal loan of $3.4 million just to construct the farm. Among other stated concerns are water contamination from hog waste and fertilizer, as well as general environmental degradation. "I'm just afraid of the stink," local Jewell Fowler told the Times.

"When this first started, they sent a petition around: 'Sign this paper if you don't want to swim in hog poop on the Buffalo,'" C&H co-owner Jason Henson told OzarksFirst.com. "I woulda signed the paper myself." The Hensons insist they have followed every regulation required for a permit, but activists have now taken up this issue as one of the main problems with C&H.

In February, representatives of public interest groups released a more detailed letter accusing ADEQ and C&H of faulty and expensive research that allowed the hog farm permit to go through. C&H claimed they had access to 17 parcels of land on which to dispose of waste, but farmers who owned three of those fields wrote to indicate they had never granted that permission. That skews the results of a government-funded research project that allowed C&H to obtain their permit in the first place. C&H received loans of more than half a million dollars just to make up for these errors, the groups say. "The people of Arkansas … have been seriously misled," says Ozark Society president Robert Cross.

Two independent research groups are now tasked with keeping track of the farm's impact. Earlier this month, the Big Creek Research Team, led by a professor at the University of Arkansas, released a quarterly report that measured as much as 8,500 colonies of E. coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. The ADEQ regulates a limit of 400 colonies per 100 milliliters.

This doesn't necessarily incriminate the farm, however. Researcher Andrew Sharpley said these readings were likely due mostly to high rainfall and flooding, and it's impossible to pinpoint a single source for the E. coli. The team's next step is to use a "dye trace" study to watch how quickly and where groundwater from the farm flows into surrounding areas.

In the midst of all this, Buffalo River received an Active Trails grant from the National Park Foundation to fund projects that will restore, protect, and create land and water trails around the river.

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Latin Americans are happiest, but nobody specifically said they felt like a room without a roof.     Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr

The World Is a (Mostly) Happy Place

Results from Gallup's "positive experience poll" are in

If you're the kind of person who likes being surrounded by upbeat folks, you should probably move to Latin America. At least if recent results from Gallup's "positive experience index" are a reliable indicator of a nation's joie de vivre. NPR reports that Latin American countries have dominated the top of Gallup's poll, which asks people to gauge how positive they feel about their lives based on factors like "experiencing lots of enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, feeling well-rested, and being treated with respected."
Paraguay scored highest for the third year in a row, with 87% of participants claiming they felt positive emotions about their lives. Denmark was the only non-Latin American country to crack the top 10 with a score of 82%, while the United States came in 19th at 78%. 
Syria had the lowest score, no doubt a reflection of the calamitous civil war which has been tearing the country apart since March of 2011. Their score of 36% is an all-time Gallup low. Chad was next to last with 52%, while the overall average fell at 71%.  
1000 people were polled in each of the 138 participating countries. Gallup did not publish any data on how many of these people may have been overexposed to Pharrell Williams's aggressively optimistic pop song, which could have pressured them into thinking that were more "happy" than they actually were. 

If you're the kind of person who likes being surrounded by upbeat folks, you should probably move to Latin America—that is, if recent results from Gallup's "positive experience index" are a reliable indicator of a nation's joie de vivre.

NPR reports that Latin American countries dominate the top of Gallup's poll, which asks people to gauge how they feel about their lives based on factors such as "experiencing lots of enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, feeling well-rested, and being treated with respect."

Paraguay scored highest for the third year in a row, with 87 percent of participants claiming they feel positive emotions about their lives. Denmark was the only non-Latin American country to crack the top 10 with a score of 82 percent, while the United States came in 19th at 78 percent. 

Syria had the lowest score, no doubt a reflection of the calamitous civil war that has been tearing the country apart since March 2011. Its score of 36 percent is an all-time Gallup low. Chad was next to last with 52 percent, and the overall average fell to 71 percent.  

One thousand people were polled in each of the 138 participating countries. Gallup did not publish any data on how many of these people might have been overexposed to Pharrell Williams's aggressively optimistic pop song, which could perhaps have bullied them into thinking they were more "happy" than they actually were.

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Rocky, Shaquille, or Truffle?     Photo: Superfish

PetMatch App Finds Look-Alike Dogs

Also works on cats

You'll never be able to replace a deceased pet, but thanks to the developers of a new app, you might be able to find a look-alike.

PetMatch, now available in the iTunes App Store from Superfish, integrates a Snapchat-like interface with facial recognition technology to connect users with adoptable doppelganger dogs on PetFinder.

The software, however, makes no promises on how well-trained the look-alikes will be.

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Huge and relatively harmless, barrel jellyfish are apparently great fodder for travel photography.     Photo: Gene Selkov/Flickr

Attack of the Jellyfish

Changing global water conditions mean gelatinous presence farther inland

Multiple British news outlets are reporting that a bloom of barrel jellyfish has swarmed the Cornish shoreline, traveling farther inland thanks to warming temperatures and high winds. Jellyfish populations tend to bloom in late spring, but the animals, sometimes called "dustbin-lid jellyfish" due to being comparable in size to trashcan lids, haven't been seen in such high numbers here since 2002.

"There are literally hundreds of them out there, possibly thousands," said Matt Slater, marine awareness officer at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, in an interview with the BBC.

What's more, they've never been so big. But although their bodies can reach more than a yard in diameter and their tentacles grow six feet in length, their sting rarely packs a punch. Even so, it's not advisable to touch them.

Reports of the barrel jellyfish's uncharacteristic encroachment upon Britain's southern coast started more than a week ago, with the first sightings in Dorset. Another jellyfish was seen a few days later, alarmingly, in Cornwall's Helford River—barrel jellyfish don't live in rivers.

Jellyfish species have exploded in number worldwide over the past few years. Many attribute this to rising sea temperatures making some cold waters habitable, increasing nutrient runoff swelling the populations of food like plankton, and overfishing of predators. This is bad news for seafaring nutrient fixers such as algae, which can't neutralize the jellyfish's carbon contribution upon its death. Interestingly, jellyfish are a form of zooplankton, which are expected to be impaired by warming temperatures. For now, however, business is blooming.

For a comprehensive picture of the jellyfish takeover, check out the JeDI map tracking the effects of increased "gelatinous presences." Ten points for using that phrase in daily life.

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