Archive | Trees & Forestry

Biologists Say Trees Can Benefit from Wildfires

BURLINGTON, Vt., Oct. 29 (UPI) — U.S. biologists say they found some savanna trees may contribute to the likelihood of wildfires to promote their own abundance at the expense of competitors.

University of Vermont Associate Professor Brian Beckage, the study’s lead author, said positive feedback loops between fire and trees associated with savannas can make fires more likely in such ecosystems.

“We used a mathematical model to show that positive feedback loops between fire frequency and savanna trees, alone or together with grasses, can stabilize ecological communities in a savanna state, blocking conversion of savannas to forest,” Beckage said.

The researchers said their findings suggest some trees might modify or “engineer” their environment, including the characteristic fire frequencies in a landscape, to facilitate their own persistence at the expense of their competitors, Beckage said.

Examples of savanna trees that facilitate frequent low-intensity fires include the longleaf pine and the south Florida slash pine, both of which frequently shed their needles providing fodder for wildfires, the researchers said. The savanna tree initially invades grassland, but by facilitating frequent fires, it limits its own density and thus prevents conversion to a forest.

The study that included Louisiana State University Professor William Platt and Louis Gross, director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, appears in the December issue of the journal American Naturalist.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Al Gore to Be a Guest on 'Letterman' on November 3rd

NEW YORK, Oct. 27 (UPI) — Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has agreed to be a guest on “Late Show with David Letterman,” CBS said Tuesday.

The author and environmental activist is expected to make his sixth appearance on the “Letterman” episode to be broadcast Nov. 3.

“Gore will release his new book about the climate crisis, ‘Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,’ on the same day as his ‘Late Show’ appearance,” CBS said in a news release. “The 45th vice president of the United States, who served with President Bill Clinton for eight years, Gore has also authored the bestsellers ‘Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit,’ ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘The Assault on Reason.’”

Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won Academy Awards in 2007 for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song. Gore was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his environmental work.

He is the co-founder and chairman of the cable news channel, Current TV.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Evacuations Needed in California Wildfires

WATSONVILLE, Calif., Oct. 25 (UPI) — Winds were diminishing late Sunday and firefighters said they were making progress on a wildfire that had prompted California officials to order evacuations.

The fire in Santa Cruz County had consumed about 600 acres and was 20 percent contained by nightfall, officials said. The fire broke out about 3 a.m. PDT Sunday and authorities ordered residents to evacuate about 150 homes in north of Watsonville, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A trailer and two outbuildings had burned, the newspaper said.

The fire originated bear California Route 17 on the border of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, Cherie Alver of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. For much of the day the weather was warm and windy — with gusts as high as 35 mph driving the fire.

Investigators had not determined the cause of the fire.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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U.S. Examines Wildfire Cleanup Companies

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 26 (UPI) — Companies hired by San Diego to remove charred remains of homes destroyed in wildfires two years ago face a federal fraud investigation, authorities say.

The city hired A.J. Diani Construction of Santa Maria, Calif., and Granite Construction of Watsonville, Calif., after the 2007 wildfires. An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper uncovered alleged discrepancies in the contractors’ bills to the city and the city attorney filed a false claims suit against the companies.

Since San Diego’s debris-removal program qualified for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, FEMA has requested a federal investigation into possible criminal fraud and misuse of taxpayer monies, the newspaper said.

Diani and Granite allegedly removed questionable quantities of debris, overcharged for materials, billed for work they didn’t perform and provided receipts that didn’t back up their billings, the Union-Tribune said.

Granite officials said they have not been informed of any investigation. Diani has not responded to media requests for comment.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Moth Orchids Seen as Easy and Affordable for Americans

DAVIS, Calif., Oct. 24 (UPI) — Millions of moth orchids cloned in Taiwanese labs and raised in U.S. nurseries are dispelling the myth they’re difficult to raise, growers said.

Once an exotic luxury, moth orchids now are a staple at Homes Depot, Costco and supermarkets throughout the country, said Doug Brothers, who manages Rocket Farms, Salinas, Calif., a major orchid grower.

“Orchids are taking the place of cut flowers. The market is enjoying something that lasts,” Brothers told The Sacramento Bee in a story published Saturday.

With little water or attention, moth orchids can bloom for weeks, botanists at the University of California, Davis, said. Large moth orchids, formally called phalaenopsis, sell for less than $20 while smaller plants sell for below $10.

Prices dropped and the number of orchids increased several years ago when U.S. regulators allowed foreign orchid producers to ship plants in sterile sphagnum moss instead of bare root, assuring a ready-to-grow plant, Brothers said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Hormone Sensing Protein Helps Plants Survive Droughts

LA JOLLA, Calif., Oct. 23 (UPI) — A hormone-sensing protein that helps plants survive dry spells and drought could yield clues to improve crops worldwide, scientists in La Jolla, Calif., said.

When a drought-tolerant plant detects dry conditions, a plant protein called PYR1 synthesizes a hormone knows as abscisic acid, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute said.

Plants under the influence of the hormone begin to conserve water by closing microscopic pores to stop water loss and causing more seeds to lie dormant.

“Abscisic acid triggers an array of plant drought-tolerance mechanisms,” said co-investigator Julian Schroeder of the University of California, San Diego.

Abscisic acid was discovered in the early 60s, but scientists are just beginning to understand how the hormone functions with PYR1 to keep plants alive during droughts, Schroeder said.

Understanding more about how PYR1 and abscisic acid interacts could allow scientists to design chemicals that mimic the interaction. Those chemicals could be sprayed on crops to protect them during dry times, Schroeder said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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SoCal Man Charged with Murders in 2003 Wildfire that Destroyed 1,000 Homes & 90,000 Acres

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif., Oct. 20 (UPI) — A Southern California man indicted Tuesday on five counts of murder stemming from a 2003 wildfire could face the death penalty, authorities said.

A San Bernardino County grand jury indicted Rickie Fowler, 28, who has been in prison in Lancaster, Calif. since 2003 on burglary charges, the Los Angeles Times reported. Fowler was charged in the deaths of six people who lived in the Old fire burn area and died of heart attacks, the newspaper said.

The fire destroyed an estimated 1,000 homes and burned more than 90,000 acres.

Fowler was also charged with aggravated arson with special circumstances. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said Fowler could face the death penalty if convicted.

Michael Valdez, a second suspect in the Old fire, was killed in a 2006 shooting at age 24.

Investigators connected Fowler and Valdez to the fire after receiving reports from witnesses who said they saw a man tossing what appeared to be lighted matches from a van, the Times reported.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Support for Legalizing Marijuana Continues to Grow in Recent Gallup Polls

PRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 20 (UPI) — Levels of U.S. support for legalizing marijuana are continuing a growth pattern begun in 2000, a Gallup Poll indicated Tuesday.

After many years of hovering around 25 percent in favor of legalizing pot, support among U.S. residents jumped to 31 percent in 2000 and now has reached 44 percent in the most recent poll, while 54 percent are opposed, Gallup said.

The pollsters said that results were virtually the same on the question of whether marijuana should be legalized as way of raising revenue for state governments, with 42 percent saying they are in favor and 56 percent opposed.

On that question, support was markedly higher among residents of the U.S. West — where an outright majority favor the proposal — than in the South and Midwest, while the views of Eastern residents fell about in the middle.

Gallup said that if support levels for legalizing marijuana continue on the same trajectory, the majority of Americans could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four years.

The poll results were based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults conducted Oct. 1-4. Its margin of sampling error was set at 4 percentage points.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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40 Crews of Firefighters Continue to Battle Queensland Brush Fires

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia, Oct. 20 (UPI) — A brush fire in Australia’s central Queensland is threatening residents of a suburban area, officials say.

The fire near Norman Gardens, a suburb of Rockhampton, has been burning in thick scrub for 11 days and local residents have been forced to evacuate, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday.

Assistant Fire Commissioner Neil Gallant said 40 crews of firefighters were active in the area, bulldozing a fire break to protect about 100 homes from the flames.

“There’s no forecast from the bureau that gives us great hope that there will be rains in the near future,” he told the Australian broadcaster.

Officials said fire breaks were being carved out to stop a grass fire in the Whitsundays in north Queensland, while a blaze was also causing trouble at Riordanvale, the ABC reported.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Wildfires Rage in Eastern Australia's Queensland and New South Wales

CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 17 (UPI) — Firefighters continued to struggle Saturday against wildfires in two states in eastern Australia.

Two fires threatened homes in central Queensland, while more than 20 fires were reported in New South Wales, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

A member of the New South Wales Fire Brigade died Friday after collapsing. He was part of a crew that had just put out a grass fire on Fingal Head, on the state’s north coast.

Earlier this year, as the Australian summer ended, explosive bush fires in Victoria killed 200 people and destroyed several communities. Many of those who died were overtaken as they tried to flee.

In Queensland, about 50 fires burned Friday, and the pace picked up Saturday as wind speeds increased. In Mount Archer National Park, residents were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, while some residents of communities near Rockhampton were told their homes might be threatened within hours.

In New South Wales, the Fire Service warned the Brooms Head fire might spread to threaten property. Other blazes closed roads.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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