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Dispatches
Cactus Huggers

Small Men on Campus
Sasquatch's Cousin
Waste Wanted
Tracking Dragonflies

Last Refuge

Cactus Huggers

There seems no end to the steady march of subdivisions and strip malls across southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Every week greater Tucson grows by approximately 500 people, and in the course of a year nearly 5,000 acres of the area’s desert are lost to development. But thanks to the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society’s Cactus Rescue Crew, thousands of spiny cacti are at least being saved from the bulldozers. Builders who apply for a permit to clear land can ask the organization to identify and remove native plants before the ground is touched. Rescue crew members, who are all volunteers, can buy discounted plants if they work on that operation. The other salvaged cacti are donated or sold to pay for operating expenses and environmental education programs. Since the society launched the crew in 1999, it has rescued more than 28,000 plants, including the emblematic saguaro cactus, that would otherwise have been mulched or sent to a dump. —Susan Cosier
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Small Men on Campus
This past spring, even as ice caps were melting, Republican college students defiantly licked snow cones at an Oklahoma University event held to “debunk” global warming. The College Republicans National Committee (CRNC) is urging its 1,775 member chapters to throw gatherings like “Global Cooling Day” and global warming beach parties to mock concerns about climate change. “I’m no expert on the issue. The only science class I took was political science,” admits recent OU graduate Michael Patlan, the CRNC’s Oklahoma state chairman and host of the first snow cone party. Paul Gourley, national chairman of the CRNC, expects the parties, which help recruit new members, to continue into the next school year. Although both Patlan and Gourley concede that global warming is occurring, Gourley objects to any “drastic changes that may affect the markets and the way people live.” After all, as the earth continues to heat up, college students can always wear togas. —Melissa Mahony
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Sasquatch’s Cousin

Sightings of a “mystery beast” have generated a lot of buzz outside Raleigh, North Carolina. Curious onlookers snapped clear photos that reveal a slender, nearly hairless creature with upright ears, a long neck, a kangaroo-shaped head, and a ratlike tail. Once the pictures were uploaded to an Internet hunting forum, speculation ran wild regarding its identity. Posted suggestions included a fox with mange, someone’s escaped exotic pet, and a handful of hybrids (a fox–possum cross was proposed by someone). Others thought it was the Wampus Cat (part woman, part feline) of Cherokee folklore. It turns out that Perry Sumner, a state wildlife biologist, has seen such animals (though dead) before and is certain it’s a fox with a genetic disorder known as Sampson, meaning it lacks the long, protective layer of fur known as guard hair. “Even though it’s really uncommon, people are seeing these things more often,” he says. “I just think it’s because more foxes in general are being pushed [by development] into urban areas.” —Hilda J. Brucker
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Waste Wanted

To humans, bird poop is noxious, especially when it accumulates in copious amounts near public places that double as roosting areas. But to underwater seagrass beds, phosphorus-rich guano has been found to be a nourishing food, helping them regenerate. In a current restoration project, scientists at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab are trying to attract birds to fertilize the seagrass around Alabama’s Robinson Island, where motorboats and the occasional hurricane rip up the fragile underwater ecosystem. The seagrass beds are “very critical nursery habitats for shrimp, crab, and finfish,” says John Dindo, a marine scientist at the Sea Lab. To entice the birds, Dindo and his fellow researchers are putting stakes in the ravaged grass beds. Throughout the year all kinds of birds, including gulls, pelicans, and possibly even egrets, are expected to roost there and make deposits. A similar program was effective in restoring seagrass beds in the Florida Keys. —Susan Cosier
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Tracking Dragonflies
Tiny radio transmitters that weigh less than a paper clip have thrilled a team of Princeton University researchers. Led by ecologist Martin Wikelski, the team used eyelash adhesive reinforced with super glue to attach the diminutive devices to green darner dragonflies in Cape May, New Jersey, in what was the first effort to electronically monitor dragonfly migration patterns. It turns out that dragonflies use some of the same traveling tactics as songbirds while heading for warmer climes. Like birds, the insects moved south after two nights of falling temperatures. Lower  nighttime temperatures often hint at favorable tailwinds from the north. They also held “stopovers” in windy weather and avoided being stranded over large bodies of water. Although it is thought that dragonfly migrations may influence the migrations of birds that prey on them, Wikelski assumes their migrations evolved  independently, since fossil evidence suggests dragonflies existed 140 million years before birds. “There seems to be a common best solution to cover large distances,” he says. —Hilda Brucker
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Last Refuge

Blackbirds nesting in a southern California wheat field were granted a reprieve this spring—at least for a month. Audubon California and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society united to pay a farmer to delay his harvest on 13 acres so that tricolored blackbird chicks could fledge. Usually the southern California colonies choose a nesting site in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, but increasing development around the state preserve has fragmented the bird’s habitat, making it harder to build nests and find insects to eat. Unfortunately for the blackbirds, much of the agricultural land in southern California is also being converted to residential land.  “We have very few colonies compared to a few years ago,” says Robert Meese, a tricolored blackbird researcher at the University of California, Davis. But in the meantime, up to 20,000 blackbirds are finding refuge in one farmer’s field. —Susan Cosier
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