November 19, 2014

Reindeer can take on tundra more capably than most vehicles.     Photo: DVIDS/Flickr

Russians Might Use Reindeer to Battle Crime

Animals handle tundra better than snowmobiles

Russian authorities have found another use for reindeer: police mounts. According to the Guardian, they’re considering starting a reindeer police force for northern tundra regions.

Parts of the remote Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug area, in northwest Siberia and home to indigenous people, are accessible only on reindeer. A police official told the Guardian that authorities in the region have been having trouble bringing people into the station and chasing down suspects who escape on their own reindeer. The force currently uses snowmobiles, but those can break down and run out of gas. Reindeer are more adept at navigating the frozen land.

“Of course we have snowmobiles in service, but one should understand that a machine is a machine,” the Interior Ministry’s Irina Pimkina told Russian newspaper Izvestia. “A snowmobile can break down or get stuck in the tundra, but the deer will run at all times.”

Most crimes committed in the district in 2014 were drunken fights, robberies, and hooliganism, according to the Moscow Times.

Russia has used animals for law enforcement in the past, from mine-hunting dolphins to donkey mountain patrols. The Moscow Times reports that police started asking for reindeer in 2012 and included a plan for police camels.


Aksel Lund Svindal took a major fall in 2007, breaking his nose and cheekbone.     Photo: Trysil/Flickr

FIS Approves Air Bags for World Cup Skiing

Safety system to debut in January

The International Ski Federation (FIS) announced Tuesday that its new air bag safety system will debut January 10 at the World Cup women’s downhill in Austria, the Associated Press reports. Italian manufacturer Dainese designed the air bags to inflate when a racer has irredeemably lost control, padding the skier’s neck, shoulders, arms, and backbone.

The FIS had originally planned the debut for December, but its postponed its approval in late October. The original design made skiers’ back protectors thicker than 45 millimeters, which violated equipment rules.

Now corrected and approved, the air bag may be used in World Cup training sessions until its official introduction in January. The system can deploy in 100 milliseconds and absorbs 61 percent of the impact, Vittorio Cafaggi of Dainese told 3 News NZ last winter. The FIS stopped short of making the air bags mandatory.


Pipes used for construction of the original Keystone pipeline.     Photo: Loozrboy/Flickr

Keystone XL Bill Fails in Senate

Pipeline falls short by one vote

After passing through the House last week, legislation in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline fell short by one vote in the Senate.

A bill introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, needed 60 votes to pass but lost 59 to 41. All 45 Republican senators supported the bill, joined by 14 Democrats. 

The 1,179-mile pipeline would expedite oil transport from Alberta’s tar sands to Gulf Coast oil refineries, taking a more direct route through the Great Plains than the existing Keystone pipeline. The Canadian National Energy Board approved the project in March 2010, but it has stalled in the United States. 

Domestic proponents of the pipeline argue that the $7 billion construction price is well worth the jobs that would be created and the benefit to the U.S. economy. Opponents stress long-term climate costs of expanding the tar sands oil industry; the process of extraction requires a massive use of resources, and when burned, the resulting fuel emits some 17 percent more greenhouse gas than traditional crude.

The bill’s failure is likely just a temporary setback for the pipeline. As reported in the New York Times, Senate Republicans have already vowed to introduce another Keystone bill in early 2015, when they will hold the majority.

You can read Outside’s feature story on the grim effects of tar sands extraction on the people who live next door to the open pits and toxic runoff here.