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The first water-dropping helicopter was en route to a fast-moving forest fire in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley nearly half an hour after it was first reported, according to a timeline compiled by the provincial government, which says an initial review has found the response was fast and well co-ordinated.
The fire started in high winds just outside of Peachland on Sept. 9, causing 1,500 residents to flee and destroying four houses.
Newly released audio recordings of RCMP radio dispatches detailed the initial response, as Mounties on the ground called for help and at times appeared frustrated that firefighters were not on the scene sooner.
But the B.C. Forests Ministry says although its review largely confirmed the account gleaned from the audio recordings, it also indicates the response by provincial firefighters was appropriate in the circumstances.
"An initial review by all responding agencies shows an excellent co-ordinated response. The ministry has received numerous compliments for its fast response to this fire," the ministry said in a fact sheet released this week.
"Given the aggressive behaviour of this wildfire, public and first responder safety was of paramount importance. No injuries were reported during this incident."
The fire was first reported at 2:55 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9, and emergency officials quickly confirmed it was just outside the jurisdiction of Peachland's volunteer fire department, leaving the initial response to the provincial wildfire management branch.
A forest officer was in a truck driving to the scene by 3:10, according to the ministry timeline.
By 3:22, about 27 minutes after the fire was first reported, the first water-dropping helicopter was in the air and en route. The chopper's travel time to the fire was estimated to be about five minutes.
At roughly the same time, a duty officer with the Peachland Fire Department responded.
The forest officer requested Peachland's help at 3:27, and the two vehicles from the department were dispatched within minutes. The first Peachland Fire Department member was on the scene at 3:34, according to the ministry — 39 minutes after the fire was first reported.
Meanwhile, the fire was growing rapidly in strong winds..
The fire moved one kilometre in just half an hour — or 33 metres every minute, according to the ministry fact sheet.
At one point, sparks and embers capable of starting smaller fires — a process known as spotting — were being carried up to 500 metres ahead of the main fire.
At 3:59 p.m., a bird-dog plane, which makes observations and directs air tankers carrying fire retardant, flew overhead. An air tanker dropped the first load of fire retardant at 4:16, according to the ministry.
The ministry said it would also conduct a full review into the response, as it does with all significant fires.
Neither the provincial wildfire management branch nor the Peachland Fire Department have targets for response times.
The Forests Ministry said such guidelines aren't practical for provincial firefighters because of the size of the province. Instead, the ministry noted 92 per cent of all wildfires are contained before they reach four hectares.
The Peachland Fire Department, which required a request from the province before leaving its own boundaries, also said response time targets don't make sense, because response times often depend on where volunteers are when a fire breaks out and how quickly they can reach the fire hall before responding.
The ministry fact sheet noted the wildfire management branch has an agreement with Emergency Management B.C. to co-ordinate responses when fires are near populated areas. In such cases, a response that involves multiple agencies is handled through a "unified command structure," which was put into action in the Peachland fire.
The ministry noted that agreement allows municipal fire departments to respond to fires outside of their jurisdiction if requested by the wildfire management branch.
The Peachland fire started about two kilometres up the road from the end of the Peachland Fire Department's jurisdiction.
Elsie Lemke, chief administrative officer with the District of Peachland, said a major issue in such cases is insurance, including personal and corporate liability and workers' compensation.
"We're covered for responding to fires or other emergencies within our boundaries," said Lemke.
"The only time we're covered to go outside out boundaries is when we're called by the appropriate organization that has the right to request us or when a neighbouring community calls and asks for our help when it's under a mutual aid (agreement)."
There are a number of homes and acreages along the road between the district and where the fire started, near a park on the side of Highway 97C.
Lemke noted in 2010 the Regional District of Central Okanagan planned to explore the possibility of funding fire protection in the valley.
When the regional district asked the province for help in paying for such a study, the government said its grant funding had been used up for the year. Lemke said Peachland has not heard anything further about the issue since then.
"Virgin birth" among animals may not be a rare, last-resort, save-the-species stopgap after all.
For the first time, animal mothers, specifically pit vipers, have been discovered spawning fatherless offspring in the wild. More to the point, the snakes did so even when perfectly good males were around.
Among vertebrate animals that normally reproduce sexually, virlgin birth, or parthenogenesis, had been observed in only captive female snakes, Komodo dragons, birds, and sharks.
Until now it's been considered an evolutionary novelty, albeit one that made a sort of sense—a way for a bloodline to continue in the absence of suitable fathers.
For the study behind the find, published in this week's issue of the journal Biology Letters, a team led by biologist Warren Booth of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma captured pregnant copperhead and cottonmouth (see picture) females from fields where males were present. When the snakes gave birth, the researchers documented the physical and genetic characteristics of the litters.
Tests showed that 1 of the 22 copperhead mothers had given birth parthenogenetically, as had 1 of the 37 cottonmouth snakes collected—a ratio Booth finds surprisingly high.
"The fact that we find it in such small sample sizes is quite remarkable," Booth said. "What we're going to do now is go back to these populations and do sampling year-to-year to see if we can find instances of parthenogenesis again."
Why would female snakes undergo parthenogenesis when males are available?
One possibility: It might have been the only way they could reproduce. Booth noted that the copperhead that underwent parthenogenesis was smaller than usual—and perhaps passed over by males in favor of fitter females.
Other scientists have suggested that parthenogenesis is a kind of random reproductive mistake. Booth himself is investigating the possibility that a bacteria or virus is the trigger.
Another mystery: Each of the two virgin-birth litters consisted of a single snake. A normal copperhead litter might number between 6 and 9, while cottonmouths can spawn up to 20 offspring.
Also, the two virgin-birth baby snakes were both male. That might just seem like the luck of the draw, except that every known parthenogenetic snake offspring has been male—a certifiable scientific mystery.
"It would be interesting to see if we can find females," Booth said. "There's no reason realistically why we shouldn't find females, but in all of the [snake] species that we've looked at ... they've all been males."
It's also unknown whether animals born by parthenogenesis can reproduce normally or have virgin births themselves.
Parthenogenetic offspring often exhibit abnormalities or die early. That shouldn't surprise anyone, Booth said, since it's essentially "a severe form of inbreeding."
You're Safe for Now, Men
A virgin birth occurs when a polar body—a cell produced along with the egg—essentially functions like a sperm and "fertilizes" the egg.
As a result, the DNA of a virgin-birth offspring, or "parthenogen," doesn't perfectly match that of its parent—the offspring is a sort of half clone.
So far, parthenogenesis has only been observed among sharks, reptiles, and birds (which are closely related to reptiles). Mammals aren't thought to be capable of parthenogenesis, because their reproduction requires copies of genes from both parents.
"So no human parthenogenesis anytime soon," said Stony Brook University marine biologist Demian Chapman, who discovered virgin birth among blacktip sharks.
All species are vulnerable to potential attacks - from ecologically vital oaks to non-native ornamental species, such as lawson cypresses.
The biggest risk, it warns, comes from non-native organisms, which - in their natural range - are kept in check by natural predators and environmental conditions.
However, if they are able to become established in the UK's natural environment then there are often no natural controls to curb their spread, resulting in a potentially devastating impact on the landscape.
In October 2011, UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman launched the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan, warning that millions of trees could be lost in the next few years unless urgent action was taken.
The Commission recently published biosecurity guidance, offering advice on steps that can be taken to avoid accidentally spreading damaging organisms on clothes, footwear, vehicles, etc.
"The fact that we are an island has helped us, because we are fairly impoverished compared with the European mainland," explained Hugh Evans, head of Forest Research in Wales.
"So even the 20 miles of water is enough to protect us from the pests that are quite dangerous on the mainland."
But our relative isolation has come at a cost, he warned.
"If pests do get through, then they arrive without the spectrum of natural enemies and that is one element that can make the effect within the arrival country much worse than in the country of origin."
Richard McIntosh from Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) says the growing volume of international trade is one reason for concern. "Trade is becoming increasingly global, and there is an ever-widening diversity of plants and plant material being traded around the world," he told BBC News.
"There are examples of where pests or pathogens have been introduced, and it is very difficult to respond to them once they are within the EU.
"Prevention is much better than cure but identifying all of the risks is not always the easiest thing to do."
Probably the most widely publicised pathogen is Phytophthora ramorum, a fungal organism which was suspected of being introduced to these shores via the plant trade. There is no treatment; infected trees have to be felled and removed from the natural environment.
Although it had been present at low levels in the UK for a number of years, in 2009 there was a sudden change in the pathogen's behaviour. It was recorded infecting and killing the commercially important Japanese larch trees in South-West England.
It was the first time in the world that P. ramorum had been found on a species of conifer. It has since been recorded affecting larch trees at sites in all four UK nations.
John Morgan, head of the Forestry Commission's Plant Health Service observed: "We are still are pursuing a policy of reducing the level of the disease so then it does not spread further.
"If, over a number of years of felling, we can reduce its spread we can then preserve what we have left in terms of larch in forests."
Dr Morgan added that the disease would not be eradicated: "Once something like that is established then we are purely looking at a policy of containment.
"P. ramorum is definitely in the realms of containment strategies. By the time it was discovered in larches, it was too late."
Experts say the symptoms to look out for on larch trees include dead and rtipaally flushed trees present in groups, patches or distributed throughout a stand. An affected tree's crown and branches die back, and there is a distinctive yellowing or ginger colour beneath the bark.
Another pest that was introduced to the UK as a result of human activity was the great spruce bark beetle.
"It clearly came into this country via wood that had not been debarked properly," said Prof Evans.
"What was interesting - and I think this is [a] somewhat typical story - is that although we found it in 1982, our subsequent research found that it had been in the country at least 10 years prior to that."
The beetle breeds under the bark and destroys the cambium (a layer of growing tissue that produces new cells to carry water, sugars and nutrients around the tree). This weakens the tree, and in most extreme cases, the damage can kill the tree.
As part of their research, Prof Evans said scientists quickly identified a possible "bio-control" option. They introduced a natural predator - another species of beetle called Rhizophagus grandis.
"We were able to bring that beetle in to the country; we got the very first licence for the release of a non-native species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
"It proved to be incredibly successful," he told BBC News.
"[The great spruce bark beetle] did kill quite a few trees, but after the predator was introduced and we continued to monitor it for a few years, its population has dropped to a relatively low level. It is still spreading, but the predator seems to be following it."
Dr Morgan said UK control measures involved four stages.
"We try to prevent pest and diseases entering the country; then, if they have arrived, we switch to a policy of eradication to try and stop them becoming established," he said.
"If they do become established then we try and follow a policy of containment which is to try and slow or stop the spread of the pest.
Finally, if all previous three efforts have failed then we operate a way that we can live with the particular pest or disease."
There are a number of ways that scientists are able track the global or regional spread of a pest or pathogen, such as the EU Plant Health Directive that requires nations to report new outbreaks or new pathogens.
Another way data is shared among researchers is via bodies such as the European Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization and the International Plant Protection Convention.
"Both of these organisations have notification systems where countries are able to report developments that might be of wider interest," revealed Fera's Richard McIntosh.
"We monitor that sort of intelligence, together with information that might be coming out via publications, and also what we are finding - such as what we are intercepting at the national borders."
Mr McIntosh said this information is used to produce a document known as a Pest Risk Analysis (PRA), which looks at the risks, possible impacts and control of each organism within a UK context.
Andrew Sharkey, head of woodland management for the Woodland Trust, said the impact of pests and diseases often had ramifications that were felt beyond the individual trees that were infected.
"Two of our sites have been affect by [Phytophthora ramorum]... so we had to fell the larch on those sites," he said.
"We are comfortable with this because it is good practice but it means that it has disrupted all of the site plans for those sites.
"The larches on one of the sites were on what we call 'planted ancient woodlands', which we were trying to restore back to native woodlands.
"This has an immediate impact on our biodiversity work and planning work."
In 2011, Natural England's Keith Kirby warned that the future well-being of the UK's oak trees was at a crossroads because of the potential threat from a disease known as Acute Oak Decline (AOD), which experts warned could be as devastating to the treescape as Dutch elm disease.
Dr Kirby told BBC News that research was helping shed more light on dynamics of the mysterious disease.
"We are becoming more and more certain that it is basically a bacterial issue, and a beetle is involved in its spread. It appears that the problem is also exacerbated if the tree is under stress," he said.
"But we are not that much further along in terms of knowing exactly how abundant or widespread it is.
"At the moment, it does not look as if it has gone beyond the East Midlands and southern England area, where most of the records have come from."
As one of the UK's leading woodland ecologists, Dr Kirby said people had to be philosophical about the fact that the composition of woodlands were going to change.
"We cannot attempt to maintain the mixtures that existed in the past," he observed. "We have to accept that there will be change, and manage the dynamic situation.
"If you have got a changing environment, you cannot expect the communities and assemblages of species of past environments to survive."
Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19167307
Australia plans to link its carbon trading scheme with the EU's, enabling firms to use European permits from mid-2015 to emit carbon dioxide (CO2).The EU's carbon market is the world's largest and the deal is being seen as a significant step towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The aim is to have the Australian and EU schemes fully linked from July 2018.
Australia is the developed world's highest CO2 emitter per head of population. It now taxes big polluters.
The carbon tax introduced in Australia last month has triggered fierce opposition. It forces about 300 of the worst-polluting firms to pay a levy of A$23 (£15; $24) for every tonne of greenhouse gases they produce.
The EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, said "we now look forward to the first full international linking of emission trading systems".
"It is further evidence of strong international co-operation on climate change and will build further momentum towards establishing a robust international carbon market," she said on Tuesday.
The deal with the EU aims to give Australian firms more options for meeting their CO2 reduction targets. That could dilute criticism of the government over the carbon tax, which opponents say puts Australian firms at a disadvantage internationally.
Both the Australian and EU carbon schemes are based on cap-and-trade - they set emission caps for the biggest polluters, forcing them to buy permits if they want to go above their emission targets.
The greenest firms can sell any surplus permits to heavy polluters, creating a financial incentive for industry and power generators to cut emissions.
Each EU carbon permit currently trades at about eight euros (£6; $10) per tonne. The EU's carbon market had a turnover of some 90bn euros in 2010, the Euractiv news website reports.
As part of the plan to link up with Europe, Australia will scrap a carbon floor price of 12.4 euros per tonne that it was going to introduce in July 2015. That would have made carbon permits more expensive in Australia than in Europe.
The 300 firms in Australia's scheme can meet up to half of their carbon targets through internationally approved green projects in developing countries. But in future the maximum will be only 12.5% for UN-certified carbon offsets - green projects that come under the Kyoto Protocol.
Australia's Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said linking the Australian and EU systems "reaffirms that carbon markets are the prime vehicle for tackling climate change and the most efficient means of achieving emissions reductions".
He added that Australian firms would now be able to buy EU permits in advance of trading them in 2015.
Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19408612