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It is on these slopes of the Rocky Mountains that the U.S. Forest Service would pioneer a novel approach to rid forests of the detritus from “epidemic levels” of beetle infestations that wiped out 38,000 square miles of trees — an area larger than the state of Maine. What’s left fuels historic wildfires, prevents wildlife and cattle from finding forage, threatens to topple onto campsites and slows regeneration of trees needed to sustain the beleaguered timber industry.

The plan would allow construction of up to 600 miles of temporary roads to log, thin and set prescribed burns across 850,000 rugged acres from the Colorado-Wyoming border north across the Snowy and Sierra Madre ranges. The ­15-year project, a marked departure from the agency’s historical approach to restoration, is moving forward as President Trump blames the deadliest wildfire in California’s history on “gross mismanagement of the forests” — a widely disputed allegation.

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Genomics scientist Kevin McKelvey at the U.S. Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula said the idea popped out of a lecture assignment he was trying to fix. After a decade refining the environmental DNA technique of finding fish evidence in samples of creek water, his lab could detect the presence of five little fish from a thousand yards away.

“The EDNA stuff was cool, but I’d be presenting a fish talk to wildlife guys,” McKelvey said. “So we got thinking outside the box and recognized the magic of EDNA wasn’t limited to water. We could do the same thing on land in snow.” 

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While researchers say the program’s modeling and forecasting capabilities have steadily improved, California’s rising temperatures and worsening droughts are making fires hotter, deadlier, more aggressive, and less predictable. To be more useful to first responders, the software has to get much simpler, says Carolyn Sieg, a plant ecologist at the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station who works closely with Linn. The agency has begun spending a bigger portion of its $2.6 billion fire-suppression budget on modeling that’s more useful in day-to-day battles.
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Getting your paws on a Canadian lynx is no easy task. These rare cats inhabit remote forests and steep rocky mountains. In fact, lynx are so scarcely-seen, they’ve been dubbed the “ghost cat”—and little is known about their distribution. This lack of information has hindered efforts to conserve the animal, which is listed as a threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Scientists have now begun using a new technique to track these animals down, by detecting trace amounts of DNA left in the snowy tracks of these and other creatures. In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, scientists from the U. S. Forest Service were able to confirm the presence of a lynx in the Northern Rockies through genetic analysis of snow it had stepped in.

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Designating pike a prohibited species requires that anglers kill pike as soon as they are caught, and it makes transporting live pike illegal.

Dr. Carim, of the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula, was hired to find out where the pike came from in the first place.

“If they continue to come in through other sources, any efforts we place on suppression might be in vain,” Carim said.

Biologists had for years assumed the pike were washed into Pend Oreille Lake from Montana via the Clark Fork River. From there, it was assumed, the fish migrated down the Pend Oreille River into Washington, but Carim’s genetic research shows Idaho’s pike population mostly remains in Idaho’s portion of the Pend Oreille River downstream from Sandpoint.

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"It's the first really major campaign with fires as its sole focus," said David Fahey, head of the chemical sciences division at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory.

The agency is working with NASA and the Forest Service on a plan to track wildfire smoke plumes next year in an effort to better identify the thousands of chemicals they contain. Some can impair public health and add to climate problems. Others can affect regional weather as they move.

The culmination of the four-year effort will include another first: a planned burn of a large forested area in the West after an intensive study of the contents of its fuels, including trees, brush, grass and organic matter in soil. The burn will help researchers better measure and understand the specific ingredients of a plume created by an intense fire before it begins to move.
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The PBS News Hour team discusses the increasing incidents of mega fires with researchers and a fire documentarist. USFS research ecologist Sharon Hood discusses experimental plots in Montana related to forest management strategies for fire prevention.

In 2002, a massive blowdown and a spruce beetle infestation snatched the life from hundreds of thousands of trees in the Rio Grande National Forest in south-central Colorado. Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas thought he had time to make the best of the destruction.

A similar beetle infestation in the 1940s that had impacted 60 percent of a 225-square-mile portion of the Flattop Mountains resulted in Dallas’ counterparts from that era logging high-quality timber for homebuilding through the 1990s. Dallas estimated he had 20 to 30 years to do the same in the Rio Grande.

But just a decade after the lush conifers in the Rio Grande were attacked, he found that some of the trees had deteriorated to the point that they would be worthless to traditional markets. Without a market, Dallas’ role becomes “custodial,” waiting for a stray spark to ignite.

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This Saturday, come celebrate and learn about bats at the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.

Explore hands-on activities and displays celebrating these unique winged mammals. Make bat decorations, play bat games, AZ bat displays, and learn about bat research information. An opportunity to test your bat knowledge!

This event will be held in partnership with AZ Game and Fish and Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Science Saturdays take place on the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Each month is focused on a different theme and each event offers fun and educational hands on activities. Artists, scientists, and experts join us on occasion to provide extra special opportunities to learn and explore. Science Saturdays are free and open to the public. No need to RSVP, you are welcome to join anytime.

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"We try to mimic fire to the best we can in the lab," Jackie Ott, an ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, said after monitoring the experiment, garden hose in hand. The station, part of the U.S. Forest Service, is located next to the Black Hills National Forest building on Mount Rushmore Road. 

The core sample experiments are just one part of a three-year, multi-agency research project into how the grass and shrublands of western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming respond to wildfires. It also involves field experiments that ignite and record data from 20 small plots of land spread throughout the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, a nearly 600,000-acre protected area in South Dakota. Field experiments will also take place at 16 sites on private and public land in Wyoming. 

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