Environment

Gopher tortoises are big, dry, wrinkly reptiles that dig burrows underground in the parts of Georgia where the soil is sandy, down south and near the coast.

To the people who study them, they're "cute," "quite personable," and "just a great little critter."

To the 350-or-so other species of animals that use their burrows, they're property developers.

To businesses, they're a potential problem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protecting gopher tortoises under the Endangered Species Act, and that could mean red tape and additional costs.

Honeybees are amazing and adorable, and they suffer when people spray pesticides or mow down wildflowers. We've heard plenty in recent years about collapsing bee colonies.

So Jonas Geldmann, at the University of Cambridge, says he understands how the honeybee became a symbol of environmental conservation.

But he still doesn't like it.

"Lots of conservation organizations are promoting local honey, and even promoting sponsorships of honeybees and that kind of stuff, and that increasingly annoyed me," he says.

US natural disasters in 2017 cost $306 billion, the most expensive year since NOAA started keeping track in 1980.  

To put that figure in perspective, that's more than the interest on the US national debt and twice the federal budget for health, Medicare and education. The second most expensive disaster year was 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. That year’s total was $215 billion.

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the oldest fossil of a modern human outside Africa. The fossil suggests that humans first migrated out of the continent much earlier than previously believed.

The Bialowieza Forest, which spans 350,000 acres between Poland and Belarus, is home to a vulnerable population of about 600 bison. But this winter, the forest also became home to a reddish brown cow who decided to escape domestic life for some time in the wild. Poland's TVN24 news portal reports an ornithologist first spotted her in November, wandering the outskirts of the forest with a herd of about 50 bison.

Supplies Of Valuable Ginseng Root Dwindling

Jan 25, 2018

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The root ginseng is used to treat all kinds of ailments in traditional Chinese medicine. And some of the most valuable ginseng grows wild in Appalachia. Supplies are dwindling. So as Julia DeWitt from our Planet Money podcast reports, a backup plan is taking shape.

Millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. And the trash stays there: Whether it's grocery bags or water bottles or kids' toys, plastic is practically indestructible.

Now marine scientists have discovered that it's killing coral reefs.

A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries — Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar — are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills.

Last summer, Zac Peterson was on the adventure of a lifetime.

The 25-year-old teacher was helping archaeologists excavate an 800-year-old log cabin, high above the Arctic Circle on the northern coast of Alaska.

They had pitched tents right on the beach. Over the course of a month, Peterson watched a gigantic pod of beluga whales swim along the beach, came face-to-face with a hungry polar bear invading their campsite and helped dig out the skull of a rare type of polar bear.

But the most memorable thing happened right at the end of the trip.

The new acting director of the National Park Service is a former parks official who was reprimanded 12 years ago for pressuring employees to allow the owner of Washington's NFL team to cut down trees for a better view of the Potomac River.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the promotion of Paul Daniel Smith on Wednesday.

From 2004 to 2015, Smith was superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park.

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