A giant, out-of-control wildfire continues to grow in the mountains of eastern Arizona, whipped up by dry winds that are pushing flames into New Mexico and sending smoke as far away as Iowa. The so-called Wallow Fire has now grown to more than 365 square miles, and with no rain forecast in the near future, it's up to 2,300 firefighters to battle the uncontained blaze. That's no easy task to begin with, but relentless winds are making the fire even more violent, a spokesman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team tells the Arizona Republic. "Anybody who's ever made a campfire knows you have to blow on it to get it to start," he says. "Nature is blowing on the forest campfire."

Wind gusts up to 60 mph blew thick smoke into the mountain town of Greer on Monday, the AP reports, although most of the 200 full-time residents had already fled. Greer was under a mandatory evacuation order by Monday afternoon, joining Sunrise, Alpine and Nutrioso, while the towns of Eagar and Springerville were put on pre-evacuation notice. The fire grew by 21 percent on Monday alone, the Republic reports, exploding from 184,000 acres to 229,000 acres and generating lots of anxiety among communities in its path. "It's not pandemonium, but people are concerned," the vice mayor of Springerville tells USA Today. "It's the sheer magnitude [of the fire]." While there have been no injuries reported so far, and little trouble with residents defying evacuation orders, officials are urging people throughout the area to get ready to leave, even if they haven't been ordered to yet. "They can't predict how fast it's going to go, so make sure, please, you get ready," Apache County Deputy Chief Sheriff Brannon Eagar said at a town hall Monday. "If I can convince anybody, please go. It'll make your life so much easier. This thing is huge."

Since it began on May 29, the Wallow Fire has prompted the Apache National Forest to close and forced some 3,000 people from their homes, CNN reports. It's reportedly the third-largest wildfire in Arizona history, but it's also not the only patch of Arizona that's currently on fire. The fifth-largest wildfire in state history is also burning 100,000 acres in southeastern Arizona, while another, smaller one has burned an estimated 37,000 acres. And with dry conditions expected to linger, a spokesman for the SAIMT tells the Republic that this will be a long, drawn-out fight. "These fires, you can't put them out," he says. "You stop them, you contain them, and when the monsoon season comes, the water puts them out. This fire's going to be around for the next couple months."

(Sources: USA Today, CNN, Arizona Republic, Associated Press)


While the U.S. Southwest is on fire, people a few hundred miles to the northeast are facing a very different problem: historic floods along the Missouri River. The massive waterway is the latest in a series of U.S. rivers to overflow their banks this spring, and it's already compromising some flood-control levees in Iowa and Missouri. "We anticipate these compromises rearing their ugly heads all up and down the levee system throughout this event," the emergency management director for Missouri's Atchison County tells the AP. "It's not a pretty picture."

But while the Missouri River flooding is sure to cause lots of human misery in the coming weeks, it may paint a pretty picture after all for some local wildlife, the AP reports. The river has been stunted and reshaped for decades by dams and other engineering projects, and its sudden resurgence to a more natural size could be a boon for many endangered species that inhabit its banks, including piping plovers, least terns and pallid sturgeons. "The former function of the river is being restored in this one-year event," says Greg Pavelka, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "In the short term, it could be detrimental, but in the long term it could be very beneficial." The endangered pallid sturgeon should benefit from extra nutrients and organic matter carried by the floodwaters, the AP reports, while plovers and terns are likely to find more sandbars on which to lay their eggs after the water recedes. The Army Corps has spent $40 million since 2004 to build habitat for the birds that was lost to manmade dams and reservoirs, and now Mother Nature is poised to expand that work dramatically. "We should come out of this with an increased amount of habitat on top of sandbars we've already created," says Kelly Crane, another corps biologist.

But those long-term benefits are little comfort to either people or animals suffering now from the floods. In addition to humans' homes and farms being inundated, bald eagles and some other fish-eating predators may also suffer as the muddy floodwaters make fish harder to find. Some fish are even being washed away, a problem that local fishermen remember from a similar flood in 1997. "I'm no biologist, but I believe the walleye spawn has just been swept away," the owner of a bait shop in Fort Pierre, S.D., tells the AP, adding that after the '97 flood, it "took us a dozen years to get it back in balance."

(Sources: Associated Press, TIME)


Early humans didn't need to go to the gym, since they got all the exercise they needed just by hunting, gathering and generally surviving without the safety net of civilization. It's only recently that our exercise routines have become so routine, leading many of us to see physical activity as bummer. That's a shame, and as the Wall Street Journal reports today, a growing number of people aim to change that perception by getting back to the basics — not just push-ups and sit-ups, but also dangling from trees, clambering up rocks and doing other activities inspired by the workout regimens of our ancestors.

The Journal spotlights a 32-year-old New Yorker named Ret Taylor, who last year began following a workout program called MovNat (short for "Move Naturally"), founded by Erwan Le Corre of France in 2008. The premise is to use nature as a gym, improvising workout equipment from trees and rocks while dashing around the outdoors like an ancient human chasing a meal (or trying to avoid becoming one). Taylor had previously been a frequently injured marathon runner, and he says his epiphany came after a pick-up basketball game in December. "I had crazy blisters, and my legs were killing me," he says. Despite being in enviable cardiovascular shape, Taylor realized his long-distance running was working too few muscles. "If I wanted to be a well-rounded athlete, I had to focus more on the rest of my body." And now here he is, six months later, dangling 20 feet off the ground from a tree limb in Central Park. "A lot of little old ladies stop and look concerned," he admits.

The MovNat philosophy isn't limited to exercise, with many followers also trying to emulate the diets of their pre-civilization ancestors. This often involves adopting the "Paleo Diet," a trend that eschews not only processed foods, but almost anything that wasn't available to humans before the dawn of farming. "The idea is to think about what people had before agriculture," Taylor tells the WSJ. "So I stay away from sugar, salt, dairy and really anything you couldn't hunt or gather." While that may seem limiting, Taylor adds, it is healthy — and any lost creativity in the kitchen can be recouped during outdoor workouts. "It's all about improvising and not knowing what's around the next corner," he explains about his exercise regimen. "You can work anything into it, be it a bench or a curb or a staircase."

(Source: Wall Street Journal)


Environmental groups are pushing the federal government to impose speed limits on ships traveling through California marine sanctuaries, the Los Angeles Times reports, hoping to reduce fatal collisions with whales. The problem has grown to "unsustainable levels," whale advocates say, with nearly 50 whales hit by boats off the California coast in the past decade. Some experts say the true number is probably much higher, since such accidents often go unreported.

"The overlap of these shipping lanes with California's national marine sanctuaries puts sanctuary wildlife at great risk," the groups' petition reads. "While we cannot likely change the behavior of whales and other species so as to avoid ship strikes, we can and must regulate vessel practices to minimize this risk." The petition asks the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a 10-knot limit (about 11.5 mph) for large commercial ships as they navigate through California's four National Marine Sancuaries in the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank. Some vessels travel through the sanctuaries at more than double that speed, the Times reports, yet shipping groups are opposed to the proposed speed limit, arguing it would delay cargo deliveries and double the time it takes to move through the sanctuaries.

"It's just premature to assume that slowing vessel speed is the solution to the ship-whale interaction issue," says T.L. Garrett, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has already designated some shipping lanes in the region a "whale advisory zone" after four blue whales were struck and killed by ships in 2007, and broadcasts seasonal advisories to ship captains when whales are in the area, suggesting they limit their speed to around 10 knots. A similar mandatory speed limit is currently in place along the U.S. East Coast to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, the Times points out, and NOAA — a branch of the Commerce Department — says it is reviewing the West Coast application.

(Sources: Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Newspapers)


Sacramento voters nix nuclear power, G8 declares climate change a "clear threat," and more.

Russell McLendon

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Photo (smoke from Wallow Fire on June 6, seen from 150 miles away): dshortey/Flickr

Photo (flooding in South Dakota on June 4): South Dakota Disaster Recovery

Photo (woman running on steep rocks): lululemon athletica/Flickr

Photo (whales and cargo ships): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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

Daily Briefing: Tues. 6/7/2011
Fires scorch Arizona, floods boost wildlife, speed limits may save whales, and more.