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Living at the edges

Resembling an overgrown house cat with black-tipped ears and a stubby tail, the Canada lynx, a native of North America, teeters on the brink of extinction in the U.S. The few lynx that now roam parts of Washington and the mountainous Northwest survive largely because of a network of protected landscapes that crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Washington State University environmental researchers believe this transboundary landscape provides not only essential habitat for the wild cats but likely also vital connections with larger lynx populations in Canada.

Wildlife cameras set by WSU researchers recently photographed lynx in the Kettle Mountains of far northeast Washington, close to the Canadian border, and more big cats have been spotted in Glacier National Park near the Montana-Canada line.

Daniel Thornton.
Daniel Thornton

Lynx, like their forest-dwelling neighbor the grizzly bear, require many miles of connected, undeveloped terrain to survive. According to new research led by Daniel Thornton, assistant professor in WSU’s School of the Environment, such terrain occurs most frequently throughout the Americas near international borders.

This clustering of protected habitats, including national parks and conservation areas, makes many iconic, wide-ranging animals—lynx, grizzlies, jaguars, tapirs and scarlet macaws among them—physically dependent on good relations between neighboring countries and wildlife-friendly borders.

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WSU Insider

Glacier Conservancy raises funds for lynx research, education

In Glacier National Park, little camouflaged cameras are hidden throughout the trails, not to see hikers’ antics but to capture photos of the elusive lynx.

The 132 cameras took about 570,000 photos last summer capturing everything from bears and lynx to worn-out hiking boots.

This is part of a three-year study of the lynx population that hopes to learn about their activity in the southernmost portion of their habitat.

Alissa Anderson.

Alissa Anderson, a graduate student in environmental studies at Washington State University and fondly called A-lynx-ssa by her colleagues, brought the camera trap technique to Montana after it was developed in Washington.

Lynx studies are often done in the winter to avoid disturbing bears, but field work in the winter is expensive and dangerous, Anderson said.

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The Spokesman-Review

Salmon on Prozac? A new study will look at what King County’s wastewater chemicals do to fish and orcas

A new study funded by and focused on King County, Washington, aims to go beyond the sensational “salmon on cocaine” headlines to get us closer to understanding what chemicals in wastewater means for the life cycles of salmon and orcas that eat them. It has become a frequent topic of discussion within state government — especially after the Governor’s Orca Task Force made reducing exposure to pollution a top priority.

Over the next year, researchers will explore how effluent from King County’s three largest plants and nearby waters affect orca prey species and orca exposure.

Jennifer McIntyre.

The researchers will collect effluent from the West Point, Brightwater and South plants and water from nearby drainage outfalls, then send it to a lab to get a breakdown of the compounds in it. In the spring, they’ll expose juvenile chinook salmon from a hatchery to effluent mixtures at a laboratory in Puyallup run by Jen McIntyre, assistant professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University.

“We will dilute the treatment plant effluent with clean water to simulate for fish exposure to different ‘strengths’ of effluent from the treatment plant, such as occurs in receiving water,” McIntyre says.

Beyond measuring bioconcentration of chemicals and evaluating for impacts both acute (death) and chronic (limited growth and reproduction), they’ll be studying biomarkers in the blood and liver that can show subtle negative health impacts, including metabolic, endocrine or behavioral disruption.

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Dr. Universe: How do people name continents or places on earth?

Our world is full of so many different places. They get their names in lots of different ways.

One way a place might get a name is from the person who explored it. The Americas are named after an Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. But Amerigo wasn’t the first person to explore these continents.

There were already people living there when he arrived. Still, “America” was named after Amerigo. For the most part, people name things because they are claiming possession of a place. Because of that, sometimes the original names of places are lost or erased.

Theresa Jordan.

That’s what I found out from my friend Theresa Jordan, a history professor who teaches a geography course at Washington State University.

I also found out that Native Americans in the northeast of North America were already calling the place they lived “Turtle Island.” The Guna people, the first to live in Panama and Columbia, called the Americas “Abya Yala.”

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Dr. Universe

Wall Street seeks a valuable resource from Washington state’s aging farmers: their water

The faces behind Washington’s farms are wrinkling.

The average age of a Washington farmer is 58.1 years, up from 56.8 in 2012, according to the Census of Agriculture. Meanwhile, farmers under age 44 make up less than 18 percent of those in the business.

Marcia Ostrom.

The years ahead will be defined by “high transition,” said Marcia Ostrom, an associate professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University.

That represents an opportunity for investors in farms, land and water.

Older farmers often don’t have relatives interested in farming, Ostrom said. Their retirements are often tied to farm assets. Younger farmers often find it difficult to build capital to enter a high-cost industry.

Water rights offer farmers another option.

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Seattle Times