LEAVE IT TO BEAVER: Humans seem to be establishing a pattern in our relationships with some wildlife: 1) Hate animals, 2) Wipe out animals, 3) Miss animals, 4) Bring back animals, 5) Hate animals again. Today's Science Times examines the North American beaver as a case study of this phenomenon: wild animals that sometimes rebound a little too well from the brink of extinction. Once thriving throughout the continent, beavers were hunted mostly out of existence for their pelts in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hard-fought conservation efforts have now brought them back — they only recently returned to the Detroit River — but in places like Concord, Mass., an onslaught of the dam-building rodents is stopping up culverts, chewing up buildings and flooding out septic tanks. The Catch-22 echoes other similar comeback stories around the country, like the American alligator in Florida or mountain lions in California. As angry residents demand answers, biologists and wildlife authorities can do little but shrug, and hope we don't get back to step 2. (Sources: New York Times, USA Today)
EASTERN PROMISES: Senior U.S. and Chinese officials began three days of talks in Beijing Monday, aimed at ironing out differences between the two top climate-changing countries ahead of this December's huge U.N. climate summit. Despite all the vague warmth their politicians show one another, China and the United States have a long way to go before they see eye-to-eye on cutting back their respective greenhouse gas emissions. Before he left on this trip, U.S. climate-change envoy Todd Stern called China's reduction goals insufficient, and China quickly shot back that "the key to getting negotiation results will be that the few developed countries do not shift blame on others and reduce emissions first." In a meeting Monday, the Chinese vice premier reiterated to Stern that developing nations like China should be held to a different standard, which he called "common but differentiated responsibilities." (Sources: Washington Post, Agence France-Presse)
SMART MONEY? "Smart grid" has become the go-to buzzword for the electric power industry, and with $4.5 billion in stimulus money just sitting there for the taking, why not get smart? The AP takes an in-depth look today at the pluses and minuses of a more unified, flexible electrical grid. While it could create wider potential for attacks and more intrusion into people's homes by power companies, it could also allow much more efficient power distribution, save energy costs and incorporate more renewable sources into the mix. Of course, initial cost is the biggest speed bump — despite that $4.5 billion startup money and eventual savings of up to 15 percent, the overhaul may cost as much as $75 billion. (Source: Associated Press)
CLEARING THE AIR: An environmental group is suing the U.S. EPA, accusing the agency of not doing enough to ensure pollution doesn't cross state lines in the West. The EPA requires states to have some kind of plan aimed at keeping their pollution from spilling into neighboring states, but WildEarth Guardians contends in its lawsuit that New Mexico, California and several other states have no such plans. The group warned in March that it would sue if the EPA failed to enforce the interstate transport standards in the federal Clean Water Act. (Source: AP)
TRAYS NOT BIEN: There's a food fight going on at Maryland's Piney Branch Elementary School, but the students are the responsible ones — it's the school system administrators who have egg on their faces. The school's Young Activist Club wants the school cafeteria to stop using Styrofoam trays, instead buying a dishwasher and investing in washable, reusable flatware. They've won over the principal, lunch lady and the City Council, but the county school system argues that buying a dishwasher and other new materials will raise the cost of lunch for the students. (Source: Washington Post)
HOME (RUN) AND GARDEN: I finally know Ryan Howard's secret: performance-enhancing shrubs. The Philadelphia Phillies slugger has private access to the president's personal spinach supply! In this official White House video, Obama chef Sam Kass gives Howard a tour of the presidential garden, letting him munch on some raw spinach and wax philosophical about the nature of nutritious eating. The highlight of the tour, according to Kass, is the president's beehive. There's one queen the first lady won't hug. (Sources: Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times)
ECHIDNA YOU NOT: Monotremes are one of the more bizarre types of creatures on Earth — the NY Times' Natalie Angier compares them to TV-VCR combo units, "an embodiment of a technology in transition." They're some of the earliest mammals, and even though they still lay eggs, they nurse their young with milk once they hatch. The duck-billed platypus is the most famous monotreme, but the most reclusive — and possibly the smartest — is the long-beaked echidna, a spiny hedgehog-looking animal that hides in the rainy jungles of New Guinea. Like all monotremes, it has just one opening for expelling waste, having sex and laying eggs (and, for males, extending a four-headed penis), but its brain is also 50 percent neocortex — the outer gray matter that's responsible for complex thinking. By comparison, the neocortex makes up only 30 percent of a human brain. (Source: NY Times)
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