Chaco Canyon Environment

This August 2015 image provided by the University of Cincinnati shows one of the massive stone structures at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. Researchers from the university have published a study detailing the environmental impacts of Chaco’s early residents.

NEW MEXICO

Study details environmental impacts of early Chaco residents

ALBUQUERQUE — Researchers at the University of Cincinnati say they have more evidence that Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico was more than just an ancient gathering spot for Indigenous ceremonies and rituals.

The researchers analyzed pollen content and the chemical composition of soils to help document environmental impacts of the early residents who called the area home, which is now a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Their findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, focus on changes resulting from tree harvesting that sustained daily life at Chaco.

The researchers reported a gradual degradation of the surrounding woodlands beginning around 600 B.C., much earlier than previously thought.

While some of the mysteries surrounding Chaco are still debated in academic circles, there's agreement that the massive stone buildings, ceremonial structures called kivas and other features that dot the landscape offered a religious or ritualistic experience for the ancestors of today's Native American pueblos. Many of Chaco's structures are aligned with celestial events, such as the summer solstice.

David Lentz, a biology professor and lead author of the study, said many researchers have the idea that Chaco was too arid to sustain day-to-day living and that the infrastructure built over many centuries at Chaco was used only as a periodic ceremonial center and storage facility.

Lentz said that explanation is too simplistic and that his team turned up evidence to support human management of the area's environment to support daily life.

Amid the shift from people hunting and gathering to undertaking agriculture, the researchers noted measurable changes — such as juniper trees decimated for building needs, food resources and firewood for cooking.

Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, was not involved in the study and said the new research confirms what he has believed for years — that Chaco and some of its surrounding sites were residential and ritual centers. He estimates that Chaco had thousands of full-time residents.

WYOMING

Bill emerges from special session on vaccine mandates

CHEYENNE — One bill dedicated to fighting the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate emerged on Nov. 3 as the Wyoming Legislature ended a seven-day special session.

House Bill 1002 was passed and signed by both chambers and was sent to Gov. Mark Gordon's desk for his signature. It was only the second Legislature-called special session in state history.

The legislation appropriates $4 million to the governor's office for future litigation related to the mandate, and features a resolution to set the stage for Wyoming's legal standing and right to defy the mandate. At the heart of it, the bill says that unless the "public entity," as defined in the bill, receives federal funding, it can't require employees to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

This comes after the announcement that Wyoming is part of a 10-state coalition suing to block the Biden administration's mandate as it relates to federal contractors and federally contracted employees.

Many state government officials view the overall mandate, which also would apply to businesses with 100 or more employees and health care workers whose employers receive Medicare or Medicaid funding, as a federal overreach. However, no one has yet seen the OSHA rules governing the mandate, so the details are unclear at this point.

Although the majority of the representatives and senators agreed the federal vaccine mandate was unwanted, many were unsure whether the state government could legally confront the mandate outright in legislation.

Along with questioning the constitutionality of the action, some were concerned with the possible consequences for businesses across Wyoming. Federal funding would be put at risk, including Medicare and Medicaid for hospitals; federal contracts might not be upheld; and there were opportunities for employers to be pitted against their employees in lawsuits.

Well-known grizzly, 4 cubs spotted in tourist town

JACKSON — A grizzly bear and her four cubs who are already well-known to wildlife watchers got even more attention by taking a nighttime stroll through a city in northwestern Wyoming.

Security video showed the bears wandering around downtown Jackson on the night of Nov. 9, according to local police.

Police and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials shooed the five bears into a less populated area near town, the Jackson Police Department said in a statement.

Grizzly No. 399, so named for an ear tag she received after being trapped for study, has been familiar to wildlife watchers for years. She's had a reputation for lingering with her cubs near roadways in Grand Teton National Park, making her arguably the Yellowstone region's most well-known grizzly.

Biologists speculate that hanging around people helps keep away male grizzlies, which are known to kill cubs.

Charming as it may seem for a mother bear and four yearling cubs to roam a tourist town, the bears' behavior has worried wildlife managers. The bears have been raiding garbage, bee apiaries and animal feed in the Jackson area, raising the risk of a dangerous encounter with people.

Grizzlies in the Yellowstone region are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers have rebounded from 100 or so in the early 1970s to as many as 1,000 today.

NEBRASKA

102 died at Native American boarding school

GENOA — Researchers say they have uncovered the names of 102 Native American students who died at a federally operated boarding school in Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that the discovery comes as ground-penetrating radar has been used this fall to search for a cemetery once used by the school that operated in Genoa from 1884 to 1934. So far, no graves have been found.

The Genoa school was one of the largest in a system of 25 federally run boarding schools for Native Americans. The dark history of abuses at the schools is now the subject of a nationwide investigation.

Margaret Jacobs, co-director of the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project, said some of the names identified so far might be duplicates, but the true death toll is likely much higher.

Jacobs said that many of the children died of diseases including tuberculosis. Some other deaths such as a drowning were reported by newspapers at the time.

When the school closed, documents were either destroyed or scattered across the country. Locating them has proved challenging for both the Genoa project and others working to gather information on the schools.

IDAHO

Companies announce plans for gene-edited strawberries

BOISE — An Idaho company that successfully brought genetically modified potatoes to the market announced an agreement on Oct. 28 to help a California-based plant breeding company grow strawberries they say will stay fresh longer and have a longer growing season.

J.R. Simplot Company and Plant Sciences Inc., both privately-held companies, said they expect to launch the first commercially available, gene-edited strawberries within a few years.

U.S. growers produced $2.2 billion in strawberries in 2020, mostly in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But consumers discarded an estimated 35% of the crop due to spoilage. Simplot and Plant Sciences officials said genetically modified strawberries will help reduce waste, and make them available to consumers much of the year.

The strawberries will contain genes from only strawberries, selecting desirable traits that have been cultivated over decades.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a previous gene-modifying technique on Simplot potatoes. Now, more than 1.1 billion pounds of the potatoes are sold in some 40 states and 4,000 supermarkets and 9,000 restaurants.

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