August 26, 2013

    Photo: Tigerhawkvok/Wikimedia Commons

Tortoises to be Put to Death

Funds for Desert Conservation Center running out

With federal funds rapidly evaporating, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center will be closed by 2014. Officials plan to euthanize hundreds of tortoises they've been caring for since the species was added in 1990 to the endangered species list.

“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray, told the Associated Press.

The Bureau of Land Management has paid for the facility with fees imposed on developers who disturb tortoise habitat. But with the recession and housing market contraction, the bureau struggled to meet the center's $1 million annual budget. Over the past 11 months, developer fees have only totaled $290,000.

Scientists are examining the facility's 1,400 inhabitants to determine which animals are strong enough for release. Former pets make up the majority of the animals at the center, but most of the animals are too feeble to be released or are infected with disease.

While 100,000 tortoises survive in the wild, millions once burrowed across the Southwest. Picking up the animals can lead to severe dehydration, because they often void a year's worth of water when handled.

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    Photo: DPM Climbing

Five Charged With Manslaughter in Tito Traversa's Death

The 12-year-old climber died after a July fall

Manslaughter charges have been filed against five people in the death of 12-year-old climber Tito Traversa, according to Italian outlet La Repubblica Tornia. Traversa was climbing a route in Orpierre, France, when his anchors failed and he fell some 40 meters to the ground. He was airlifted to a hospital in Grenoble where he died three days later.

Early investigations by French officials revealed that his quickdraws had been incorrectly assembled, with the carabiners threaded only though the rubber keeper, and not through the loop at the end of the quickdraws intended to support a climber's weight. According to public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello, who opened the case on August 21st, French police confirmed that eight out of ten of Traversa’s quickdraws were assembled this way.

Among those charged is the owner of the company that produced the rubber keepers without instructions, and the owner of the gear shop that sold the keepers. The manager of the club that organized the climbing trip, as well as two of the instructors who were on site, have also been charged for failing to monitor the assembly of the equipment. 

For more on the potential for liability in outdoor sports:

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    Photo: chensiyuan/Flickr

Wildfire Enters Yosemite National Park

Giant sequoias and drinking water at risk

The wildfire blazing near Yosemite has entered the park and now threatens the power and water supply for millions in the San Francisco Bay area. As of Monday morning, the blaze is only 15 percent contained.

The fire has burned through 15,000 acres of land in Yosemite—though it has yet to enter the Yosemite Valley—and threats 4,500 nearby structures. Late Sunday, officials confirmed that the fire had burned through the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp Site.

More than 3,400 firefighters are fighting the blaze from the ground and air, but inaccessible terrain, strong winds, and dry conditions have interfered with the fight.

Officials are monitoring the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies water for 2.6 million people. Water quality remains good in San Francisco, but ash is falling like snowflakes on the reservoir, and the city's hydroelectric power generated by the system has been interrupted.

The blaze also threatens California's giant sequoias. "It's really unthinkable to lose the sequoias," Tom Medema of the National Park Service told CBS. "We celebrate those trees and we want to protect them. They're one of the reasons people come to this place, to see them."

Park employees are working to protect two groves by cutting brush and setting sprinklers. The trees can resist fire, but heavy brush and dry conditions are forcing officials to take extra precautions. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Farmers' Almanac Predicts Brutal Winter

Based on sunspots and astrology

The Farmers’ Almanac, a long-time predictors of weather and purveyor of astrological data, is predicting that the upcoming winter season may be one to fear. "We're using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D,” said managing editor Sandi Duncan. “It’s going to be very cold.”

The Alamanac, which has used the same system based on planetary positions, sunspots, and lunar cycles since 1818, is predicting a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country, and heavy snowfall in the Midwest and Northeast.

Last year, Caleb Weatherbee, the Almanac’s primary prognosticator, said that he was only off by a few days in predicting two big storms, a February blizzard in the Northeast and a late storm that hit New England. The Almanac places the accuracy of its predictions in the 80 percent range.

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