Wolves seem to have worn out their welcome in Wyoming, as state and federal officials announced a tentative deal Wednesday to let unlicensed hunters shoot the animals year-round in most of the state. While some neighboring states let licensed hunters kill wolves during a designated season, the deal between Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would go much further, the AP reports, catering to critics who say wolves pose a threat to local livestock and wildlife.

"For years, ranchers and sheep producers have been asked to sacrifice, and they have," Mead tells the AP. "We have lost significant numbers of elk and moose, and we have not had a say in the management of an animal inside Wyoming. It's time for that to change." Wyoming is one of three states in the Northern Rockies where wolves still exist, and is the only state where they're still federally listed as an endangered species, following an unprecedented move by Congress this year that delisted the species in Idaho, Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. U.S. oversight has persisted in Wyoming largely because the state's management plan was deemed inadequate by federal scientists, and environmental groups say the new agreement isn't much better. "We do think it's important that wolf-management decisions be based on science, and not on these kind of closed-door political negotiations," says Collette Adkins Giese, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Gray wolves once lived throughout most of North America, but were virtually wiped out of the contiguous U.S. and Mexico in recent centuries by overhunting, habitat loss and a government-backed poisoning campaign. A few were reintroduced to parts of the U.S. West from Canada in the 1990s, and have since grown into a small but stable population. And while Idaho and Montana are planning for their upcoming wolf-hunting seasons this fall, Wyoming's wolf issues will likely remain unsettled for some time, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. The agreement still must win federal approval and be passed by the Wyoming Legislature, but state leaders are also working on a controversial bill in Congress that would ban any lawsuits challenging the deal. "This is far from the end of the process," Mead predicted in a press release Wednesday.

(Sources: Associated Press, Casper Star-Tribune)


Earth originally had two moons, a new study suggests, until one devoured its smaller sibling to become the lopsided satellite we know today. The moon may not look lopsided from Earth, but it is — and according to the new study in the journal Nature, that's because it's actually two moons in one. The lunar twins would have collided at a relatively slow 4,500 to 6,700 mph, study co-author Erik Asphaug tells, resembling "a ball of Gruyere colliding into a ball of cheddar."

The new theory would explain why the moon is misshapen, the Los Angeles Times reports, with its far side jagged and mountainous, and the side facing Earth flat and cratered. Scientists have long known the moon formed about 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized space rock smashed into the molten Earth and sent debris cascading into orbit. That debris eventually coalesced into the moon, which went on to be bombarded over half a billion years by asteroids and other cosmic projectiles, leaving its rocky surface scarred with craters. But, according to the study's authors, there's no reason why some of that debris couldn't have formed a second, smaller moon, which might have then become stuck in one of the main moon's "Lagrangian points," where the gravity of the Earth and the moon cancel each other out. In that scenario, the smaller moon would have enough time to develop before its orbit became unstable and the sun's gravity shoved it into its larger sibling.

Asphaug and his colleagues designed a computer model to test this idea, in which a moonlet stayed in stable orbit around the Earth for tens of millions of years, finally drifting from its Lagrangian point and into the other, much larger moon. The model makes sense, the authors say, and the moon's jagged far side is a relic of its sibling's brief existence. "It's a really new idea that puts a completely different take on the origin of the lunar dichotomy," one expert who wasn't involved in the study tells the Times.

(Sources: Los Angeles Times, BBC News,


Proponents of hydraulic fracturing, aka "fracking," often say there has never been a case of groundwater contamination from the gas-drilling process, in which pressurized water, sand and toxic chemicals are pumped underground to loosen rocks and release natural gas. "There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing," ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said at a congressional hearing last year. "Not one."

But, as the New York Times reports, that's not true. While there is scant evidence that such contamination is common, the fact it has occurred at least once before — and that there's no way to ensure it couldn't happen again — casts the industry's longtime ridicule of contamination concerns in a new light. The only confirmed case isn't recent: The contamination was discovered in 1984, and the EPA report about it was published in 1987. But it's also little-known to the general public, even as the rock-cracking process that caused it now spreads into communities across the country. Drilling technology and safety standards have improved since the '80s, the Times points out, but fracking advocates have long claimed that such contamination is all but impossible — the fracking happens far too deep, they argue, for any chemicals to infiltrate freshwater aquifers near the surface. Given that it has occurred before, though, that argument could become less convincing to landowners and regulators. 

In fact, the EPA report on the confirmed contamination in Jackson County, W.Va., warns that there could be more cases at other gas wells. Yet researchers struggle to investigate that threat, the Times reports, because the details of many suspected cases were sealed from the public when drilling companies settled lawsuits with landowners. "I still don't understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake," says Carla Greathouse, who authored the 1987 EPA report. "If it's so safe, let the public review all the cases."

(Source: New York Times)


Tropical Storm Emily continues its slow march across the Caribbean, CNN reports, bringing dangerously heavy rains to Haiti that threaten to wreak havoc in the already disaster-plagued country. Packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, the storm is expected to leave the island of Hispaniola by Friday, then gradually turn to the north as it churns toward the Bahamas. If it follows that projected path, its outer edges could begin whipping Florida's eastern coast by Saturday morning.

As Emily batters Hispaniola today, nearly 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers are waiting on emergency standby, CNN reports, ready to help once the worst weather passes over. "We have propositioned stocks, food, medical kits, cholera kits, tents, tarpaulins both here in Port-au-Prince and in departments to prepare for the storm," the U.N.'s Kevin Kennedy tells CNN. "Some 360 evacuation sites have been identified just here in Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, and we can host up to 50,000 people for two days." Hundreds of thousands of Haitians still live in temporary housing due to last year's earthquake, and heavy rain also raises the risk of flooding and mudslides throughout the country, where decades of deforestation have made such disasters more likely. "Emily is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches," the U.S. National Hurricane Center reports, "with isolated amounts of 20 inches possible over the Dominican Republic and Haiti."

Emily should arrive in the Bahamas early Saturday morning, according to the NHC, and from there the cyclone is projected to turn toward the east, allowing it to maintain and even gain strength by staying over seawater. NHC forecasts show Emily churning north along the east coast of Florida, finally reaching hurricane strength by 2 a.m. Monday, somewhere off the coast of North Carolina.

(Sources: CNN, NHC)


The U.S. Department of Energy is created, a baseball player is arrested for killing a seagull, and more.

Russell McLendon

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Photo (gray wolf): U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo (moon above Earth's horizon): NASA

Photo (natural gas well): U.S. Geological Survey

Image (projected path of Tropical Storm Emily): NHC

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Thurs. 8/4/2011
U.S. wolves in crosshairs, Earth's moon may be 2 in 1, cyclone hits Haiti, and more.