June 12, 2013

    Photo: August G via Flickr

Smokejumper Dies in California Blaze

Killed by falling tree

A falling tree struck and killed a smokejumper while he was fighting a wildfire in Northern California, prompting a review of the incident.

Luke Sheehy, 28, was a Redding-based firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, specially trained to parachute into hard-to-access areas and combat blazes. He fighting the Saddle Back fire in the Modoc National Forest, one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires that blazed up in northeast California over Sunday and Monday. 

Governor Jerry Brown said Sheehy, who had previously served five seasons as a firefighter for CAL FIRE, was a “young man who devoted his life to protecting his fellow Californians.” Flags will fly at half-staff in his honor at the California State Capitol.


    Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

War Brewing Over Birdsong Apps

Harmful to birds, say UK experts

A war of epic proportions is brewing in the world of mobile birdsong apps. On one side are those who believe the recording and replaying of different birdsongs to be a harmless educational tool. On the other are those who argue that using fake calls to attract birds can distract them from important daily tasks.

Opponents of the apps say that they are primarily being used to attract birds for the purpose of photography. "It can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young,” says Tony Whitehead of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "It is selfish and shows no respect to the bird. People should never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.”

At the Brownsea Island nature reserve, signs have been posted to warn visitors about the use of the apps. “Use of these apps is not suitable for nature reserves and can be potentially harmful to sensitive species,” said reserve manager Chris Thain.

Dr. Hilary Wilson, a developer for the controversial Chirp! app, admitted that there was potential for misuse of the programs, but insisted that they were just learning tools and that everyone should probably just calm down a little. “Just keep the volume low,” she said.

Nesting birds are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offense to intentionally disturb a bird. No charges have yet been made.


    Photo: Aaron Logan

U.S. To Tighten Chimp Protections

Could end research

A plan by U.S. wildlife officials to declare captive chimpanzees as endangered could tighten restrictions on the use of chimps for medical research and entertainment, ending a decades-long split between the way the government regulates captive chimps and their wild-born cousins.

Authored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the proposal would require people utilizing, killing, or transporting chimps to apply for a federal permit. According to USA Today, while animal rights advocates have applauded the decision, some research groups have come out against it.

"Human and chimpanzee lives will be lost as a result of the reclassification. It is as simple and tragic as that," said Texas Biomedical Research Institute spokesperson Joe Carey. "We don't know what pandemic diseases, for which chimpanzees will be the only valid animal model, will arise in the future, but we can be certain that more of them will arise."

The separate classifications for wild and captive chimps date back to 1990, when the animals were thought to be ideal test subjects for HIV and AIDS research. Scientists have since discovered that the animals are of limited use, since they don't respond to the disease in the same way as humans.


Lighning strikes.     Photo: John Fowler/Flickr

Giant Storm Moves East

Threatens 1 in 5 Americans

A line of fierce thunderstorms may affect up to one in five Americans Wednesday as it rumbles from Iowa to Maryland, dumping hail, toppling trees, and leading to power outages. Meteorologists warn that the storms may spawn a derecho, a line of storms with straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles.

The risk of severe weather in the Midwest is roughly 45 times higher than on a normal June day, Bill Bunting, operations chief at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, told CBS News. Up to 64 million people in 10 states are within the path of the storm, which is expected to start in the early afternoon in eastern Iowa before hitting Chicago, moving at about 40 mph.

A 2012 derecho caused at least $1 billion in damage, killing 13 people, and leaving more than 4 million without power. Winds reached nearly 100 mph in some locations. An additional 34 people died from the post-storm heatwave.