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The Spill: Wildfires and Woodpeckers

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Woodpeckers and Wildfires: A Necessary Combination

The wildfires that have been burning up the West Coast have done millions of dollars in damage and cost some people their lives. The tragedy has been all over the news and social media, but not all effects of the fires have been bad. The recent forest fires have helped one species of the woodpecker climb off the endangered species list.

Woodpeckers like to drill holes in trees, especially fire-hardened ones where other species can make their homes. Those animals that live in these shelters eat fire-resistant plants and seeds and then distribute them around the forest, helping it to regrow after a fire or other destruction. The woodpecker loves to eat the larvae of the black fire beetles, which like to lay their eggs in trees that are still warm from the fires.

Teresa Lorenz, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Olympia, WA, said, “Woodpeckers are ecosystem engineers. Many small animals, from chipmunks to flying squirrels to mountain bluebirds and wood ducks, compete for the woodpeckers’ vacated nests because they are so protected from the elements and other predators. We wouldn’t have swallows, swifts, or bats without woodpeckers.”

The red-cockaded woodpecker lives in the longleaf pine forests of the southeast and mid-Atlantic. Clear-cut logging shrank its home range to only 3% of its original area. Scientists believed the birds would not be able to survive, but somehow they have.

The trees the red-cockaded woodpecker prefers are created by low-intensity fires – the type of fires and forest maintenance tasks that were deliberately set by Native Americans before the Europeans ever stepped foot on the land. Today, forest managers have to follow the same plan to make sure the woodpecker will have a place to live.

Supreme Court Appointment: Justice or Politics?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Its justices are appointed by the president and there are nine judges presiding on the bench. Recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, leaving an empty seat – and a lot of conflict between the Democrats and Republicans.

Before Justice Ginsburg died, there were five conservatives and four liberal judges to make decisions, making it a pretty balanced group. However, now the decision on whether to appoint a new judge before the November 3 election is causing concern among the Democrats, who fear another conservative appointment would see six on the right and only three on the left.

The Republicans and President Donald Trump want to get the appointment done as soon as possible, likely before the election. Those on the left, however, feel such an important decision should wait until after the presidential election. Whoever wins, they think, should appoint the newest justice . With a conservative majority controlling the bench, Democrats are concerned they will have a harder time getting their way on certain issues.

Trump, however, is scheduled to make an announcement as early as Saturday, Sept. 25, on his nominee for the Ginsburg seat. The consensus is that he will be announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge.

International Deep Sea Station?

Have you ever thought about or wanted to live under the sea? Jacques Cousteau was a famous diver and underwater researcher. His grandson, Fabien Cousteau, wants to build a state-of-the-art research facility 60 feet below the surface of the ocean.

“Scuba diving is an amazing blessing, but there’s a very real limit of time,” he said. Divers cannot be submerged too deep for very long periods of time without becoming ill or even worse. A way to fix that problem is to build an underwater habitat where researchers can observe, document, and experience marine life without constantly checking their watches and gauges.

The new underwater station, Proteus, is named after the Greek sea god who was a keeper of knowledge and could take on different shapes. It will be one of the largest ever built and is believed that it will take about three years to finish. Located in the Caribbean Sea, off the cost of Curacao, it will have room for up to 12 people to live for weeks and even months.

“Most of the habitats were purpose-built for one mission or set of missions,” Fabien said, explaining how the Proteus’ size is so much larger than ever before. “They were never conceived as an International Space Station, something that’s to be deployed for a longer period of time.”

It will cost about $135 million to build the underwater “space station” and operate it for the first three years. Researchers will use the habitat for many research tasks, including drug discovery, climate change, and food production. Like his grandfather, Fabien plans to have a video production facility that will be able to broadcast from the ocean.

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