Extinct woodpecker discovered in the wilds of Arkansas
This is the time of year when the usual harping about starting to stock up on hurricane supplies begins. Usually. This year, you should wait a few weeks.
The Florida Legislature adopted a bill this year offering a sales tax break on most of the stuff we need to buy to prepare for a storm between June 1-12. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to sign the bill any day now.
The list of tax-free goodies is pretty extensive. It includes flashlights and portable coolers up to $20, first-aid kits, batteries up to $30, tarps and tie-down kits up to $50, and portable generators up to $750.
One of the biggest expenses, plywood, was not included in the tax "holiday."
The tax break is expected to save Floridians up to $9.3 million.
Hurricane season, by the way, begins June 1.
Help find Daisy
Although the chances are slim that she's on our coast, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are asking everyone to keep an eye out for Daisy in the next few weeks.
Daisy is a tagged, radio-equipped manatee that was released back into the wild in March. The tracking gear stopped working a while back, and her last sighting was in Biscayne Bay near Miami.
She has a red and white tag, sort of a "manatee belt" with the markings "E 4" on it. If you spot her, call FWC 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
Daisy was rescued as a small orphan calf suffering from cold stress on Feb. 19, 2003, in Brevard County. She was treated and eventually released north of Homestead. She was last headed toward Key Largo.
Exploding toads in Germany
Our feathered friends are suspected in the death of thousands of toads just outside of Hamburg, Germany.
It's not a pretty picture.
The big toads - females grow to almost 5 inches in length - apparently are fine during the day. Then, at night, the toads swell to three times their normal size before bursting.
None of the usual toad disease issues are present in the toad-oscopies that were conducted on the remains, but researchers did note that the toad-detritus didn't include any liver parts. Scientists therefore suspect that birds had attacked the critters, eaten the livers, the toads then recovered and, as gases built up in them, they just went "boom."
"It looks like a scene from a science fiction movie," a resident who lives near the upscale public park where the massacre took place said in the St. Petersburg Times.
What do you bet there is indeed a movie coming to a theater near us soon. "Toad bombs from Germany!" would be my suggested title.
Got a favorite fishing hole? FWC wants to know
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to know where your favorite fishing holes are, and due to what it calls an "overwhelming response" is giving fishers until May 15 to add their spots.
"We hope to get at least 1,000 respondents, and we're about halfway there," according to Darrell Scovell of the agency. "The comments we receive will be used to set priorities for conservation efforts and guide our agency into the future, so we decided to give our anglers extra time to give us feedback.
No, the FWC officials aren't interested in stealing your favorite locations for snook and redfish - well, maybe they are at that - but they really want the information to formulate plans to better manage past practices of fishing rules.
"We hope to identify areas that need attention, formulate a game plan and direct staff to better manage our state's precious resources," the FWC said.
You can do the survey in about 15 minutes by going online at www.surveyroom.com/FisheriesInput
Dead zone grows in northern Gulf
Every spring to fall, a huge area of oxygen-depleated water forms in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The "dead zone" is fatal to any fish who happen to be caught there, and the area threatens the Gulf's $26 billion-a-year fishing industry.
The culprit behind the dead zone is stormwater runoff conveyed by the Mississippi River, scientists believe. The Mississippi carries water from 31 states, including New York and Montana, and brings with it all the toxins along the way: Fertilizers, sewage treatment waste water, animal waste, industrial pollutants and other bad stuff.
The nitrogen from the fertilizer is probably the biggest problem. It causes an explosion of algae, which then gobbles up all the oxygen in the area before it dies. Once dead, it sinks to the bottom and decomposes, denuding that region of any oxygen as well.
The dead zone has grown and grown in the past 50 years, and at times is as large as Massachusetts. That means that there's this huge black hole out there in which nothing lives.
And that's our Gulf, which is basically an inland lake with very poor flushing action to cleanse itself.
Scientists, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's magazine "Coastal Services," have proposed a $1 billion cleanup effort for the states upstream of the Gulf. The plan is projected to reduce the stormwater runoff threat by one-fourth by 2015.
The plan calls for creating and restoring wetlands along the Mississippi to produce what amounts to a green filter to keep the chemicals out of the main stream of water. There are also incentives for farmers to reduce the amount of fertilizer they use, as well as sewage treatment plant upgrades and industrial waste outfall improvements.
Of course, nobody's got any money to make any of the improvements or any real idea where to get the funds.
Let's see, a $1 billion plan to reduce pollution over the course of 10 years to salvage a $26-billion-a-year industry - nah, makes too much sense, of course that's why it's blocked.
About 40 percent of all the stormwater runoff in the lower 48 states in the United States ends up in the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River.