Environment

In the height of ski season this year, blades of grass and patches of dirt still dot cross country ski trails in Aspen, Colo. Conditions like this present a conundrum for professional skiers: Their livelihood relies on snow and cold temperatures, but essentials like travel and snow-making come with an environmental cost.

In the brave new world of synthetic biology, scientists can now brew up viruses from scratch using the tools of DNA technology.

The latest such feat, published last month, involves horsepox, a cousin of the feared virus that causes smallpox in people. Critics charge that making horsepox in the lab has endangered the public by basically revealing the recipe for how any lab could manufacture smallpox to use as a bioweapon.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Mayor Tom Barrett gave Dr. Patricia McManus, head of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, the official green light Thursday, but the process was far from seamless.

Six weeks ago former commissioner Bevan Baker stepped down after evidence surfaced that the health department had botched protocols surrounding lead testing in children.

Mayor Barrett then announced his choice for interim commissioner - Paul Nannis.

Back in 1983, it seemed like a good idea.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

The topic of lead contamination continues to consume Milwaukee leaders. The Milwaukee Health Department is under scrutiny for mismanagement of its lead paint abatement program. And, at the same time, community pressure for a comprehensive plan seems to be mounting.

Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Public Works Committee, Alderman Tony Zielinski pushed for a companion strategy. “Key components of the legislation include inserts going out with the water bill quarterly as opposed to semiannually and that would provide educational material about lead," he said.

Germany is considering free public transit in its cities in order to curb car use, as it hurries to meet the European Union's requirements for air quality.

In 2015, the top toxicologist for the state of Texas, Michael Honeycutt, was interviewed on Houston Public Radio. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency was pushing for tighter limits on ozone, a type of air pollution that is hazardous for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

In Arkansas, there is a kind of David vs. Goliath battle underway over a weedkiller.

On one side, there is the giant Monsanto Company. On the other, a committee of 18 people, mostly farmers and small-business owners, that regulates the use of pesticides in the state. It has banned Monsanto's latest way of killing weeds during the growing season.

Terry Fuller is on that committee. He never intended to pick a fight with a billion-dollar company. "I didn't feel like I was leading the charge," he says. "I felt like I was just trying to do my duty."

Audrey Nowakowski

Update 11:50 am:

With the message "You Spoke, I Listened," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced the Pay-to-Park Initiative would be removed from the 2018 budget.  Abele is now suggesting the County's rainy day contingency fund to "fully fund our Parks department for this year."

California has a giant rodent problem.

To clarify, it's not that California has a huge problem with run-of-the-mill rats, it's that the state has an emerging problem with jumbo-sized critters.

Nutria, otherwise called Myocastor coypus, were thought to have been eradicated from the state's wetlands and rivers as far back as 1965, but they have mysteriously reappeared in three counties over the past year, California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Peter Tira told NPR.

Hot summers can devastate canola farmers. Prolonged heat waves can leave behind fields of fallen, shattered oilseed pods and destroy vast amounts of the crop. Why canola (oilseed rape) seedpods disintegrate rapidly in prolonged heat blasts has been something of a mystery, but a new study suggests rising temperatures trigger a genetic cascade in the plant that leads to premature fruit development.

Susan Bence

Like many Milwaukeans, Deb Schampers of Bay View has driven past the wind turbine just south of the Hoan Bridge countless times. For years, she’s been wondering about it: Why is it there? Why only one? Who benefits?

Just for fun, during her daily commutes, Deb made up her own answers -- “It was possibly helping us make Milorganite for the world... It’s heating the ovens at DiMarini’s (a pizza place a half mile from the turbine.)”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Stefan Schnitzer

Marquette University biologist Stefan Schnitzer spends months at a time at his lab on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Amidst the fauna and flora, the island is home to dozens of woody vine species, or liana.

“And what’s happening now is that the forests are changing enough that they (lianas) seem to be thriving when many trees are not,” Schnitzer says.

Trees are important not simply to a balanced tropical forest ecosystem, they are vital to the planet. “What we want from these forests is that they pull the carbon into the tree trunk for a thousand years,” he says.

In one week, outdoor enthusiasts converged on two very different trade shows in two cities. The Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show in Denver, Colo., and the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., offered a portrait of a complex and divided American conservation movement.

The divisions began with the overtly political. The Outdoor Retailer show changed locations this year over a bitter dispute about public lands policy.

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