Monthly Archives: September 2008

Science Wednesday: Good Neighbors

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Aaron Ferster, a science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, is a regular contributor to Science Wednesday.

Last Spring, a pair of barred owls took up residence in the upper reaches of a tree just past the edge of our yard. They announced their presence during dinner one warm evening, a series of deep hoots in a pattern birders describe as “who-cooks-for-you.”

We caught a brief glimpse of one as it leaned off its perch and in a long, silent swoop faded into the shadows of the woods behind our house, disappearing like a ghost.

The owls didn’t disappear for long. The girls soon discovered a trove of owl pellets beneath the roost. By picking the pellets apart we learned what the owls were eating. Sometimes there were crayfish claws or fish scales, but the owl’s main course must have always included small mammals. Every pellet contained the tiny white vertebra and jaw bones of mice.

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Tackett holding a bag of seeds near the trap.
Curtis Tackett adds a handful of sunflower seeds to one of the small, humane traps the survey team sets to survey mammal diversity. After examining the small animals, the team sets them free. (Click image to enlarge.)

Could owls and other wild neighbors be good for health by reducing the relative abundance of tick-infected mice? Last week I got to tag along with a team of Yale researchers surveying mammal diversity in the forests of Connecticut, part of an EPA-funded effort to explore just such questions.

Naturally, the team is taking a much more scientific approach than sifting through a handful of owl pellets. Instead, they set out small aluminum traps to humanely capture a representative sample of the local small mammal population.

Every critter caught was identified, ear-tagged (if not previously captured, a regular occurrence), and weighed. Before they were set free, each animal was thoroughly inspected and any black-legged ticks found were collected for further analysis. After the first day, we joined forces with another team conducting a similar survey of birds, part of an ongoing population study now sharing their efforts with the Yale team.

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Tsao examining a mouse she caught in the forest.
Field coordinator Kim Tsao carefully examines each a white-footed mouse, counting and removing black-legged ticks for further analysis for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. (Click image to enlarge.)

The few days I spent with the survey team is a small part of a larger, two-year study to better understand of the links between biological diversity, land use, and Lyme disease. I was happy to have the chance to escape the office for a few days in favor of the forest. It reminded me once again how fun it is to explore the woods and to learn more about our wild neighbors, some of which might prove to be important for our health.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reconnaissance After Gustav Begins!

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Trailer at a household hazardous waste dropoff

Hurricane Gustav has left the Gulf Coast and moved into northern Louisiana, close to Shreveport. We have a team of individuals in the field currently conducting the Rapid Needs Assessment. We have been in touch with Louisiana today and understand that the state is planning on requesting FEMA to activate Emergency Support Function-10, which is the collection of household hazardous waste. The first picture is what a collection site for household hazardous waste might look. This picture is from Hurricane Rita.

From today’s Regional Incident Coordination Team meeting, we learned that there is wind damage in Terrebonne Parish. EPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) plane will be doing flyovers in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. We will be conducting helicopter flyovers in other parts of the state of Louisiana later today. Some of the drinking water facilities are down due to no power. A boil water advisory will be issued by the State for some areas that were impacted. We are also working with FEMA to disseminate flyers.

Damage from Hurricane RitaOne might wonder what kind of damage occurs during a hurricane. I’ve enclosed another picture from Hurricane Rita showing damage in Cameron Parish. What I remember most from hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the number of trees uprooted, the number of church steeples blown off, the golden part of the McDonald’s arches being gone, and getting lost a lot because road signs were down. I am always amazed at the kind of destruction that Mother Nature can leave behind.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: After you buy a new computer, what do you do with the old one?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Last week, we asked what you think about when you buy a new computer. Now we want to know about the old ones. You can “ecycle,donate them to charity, give them to a friend, etc. Some people store them because they’re not quite sure what to do.

After you buy a new computer, what do you do with the old one?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

La semana pasada, le preguntamos sobre lo que piensa al comprar una nueva computadora. Ahora queremos saber qué hace con las viejas. Puede reciclar los aparatos electrónicos al donarlos a entidades caritativas, o a algún amigo, etc. Algunas personas las almacenan porque no tienen claro qué hacer con ellas.

¿Después que compra una computadora nueva, qué hace con la computadora vieja?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hurricane Gustav Makes Landfall

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Hurricane Gustav made landfall this morning at 9:30 am at Cocodrie, Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane. Both Hurricanes Rita and Katrina were Category 3 hurricanes at landfall. We have been in contact with both Louisiana and Texas throughout the day.

In today’s Senior Regional Incident Coordination Team (RICT) call, we were given an update. We are mobilizing a Rapid Needs Assessment team for reconnaissance. The Rapid Assessment team will likely be in the field on late Tuesday/Wednesday.We have been activated by FEMA to have a Public Information Officer in Baton Rouge.We are looking at additional ways to distribute public information.

I have been working with the Response Support Corps Coordinator on development of a deployment form. I expect that things will be very busy tomorrow when we are all back in the office.

The storm seems to be moving very fast. We are already seeing a little more breeze here in Dallas. I can see the clouds from the outer rain bands off in the distance looking east. Here in Dallas, I am hoping for the rain and very little damage for the folks on the Gulf.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.