Around the Big Ten: MSU professor sees signs of hope in Amazon

Around the Big Ten: MSU professor sees signs of hope in Amazon

News from the home cities and states of the Big Ten universities:

MICHIGAN STATE: Amazon trek shows signs of hope, expert says

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A Michigan State University geographer just back from a grueling 700-mile trek along the Transamazon Highway in Brazil said there are signs that the country's environmental protection efforts are taking hold.

The 10-day summer trip was part of Bob Walker's continuing research on deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. The National Science Foundation is funding the work. Walker has studied the Brazilian Amazon for 20 years, with funding from NASA and others.

Walker said he and two scientists who accompanied him believe that illegal logging and gold-mining operations threaten further damage to the world's largest rain forest, but also found wide areas of undisturbed forest in nationally protected areas and indigenous reserves.

The researchers also found examples of Brazil's government halting unofficial road building, Walker said.

"We were kind of amazed by the number of good stories we actually saw," he said. "The environmental enforcement agencies in Brazil often do seem to be doing what they're supposed to do."

Accompanying him were Eugenio Arima, his former doctoral student and now an assistant professor at both Hobart College and William Smith College, and Michigan State doctoral student Ritaumaria Pereira.

A local driver helped the trio during the trek along the Transamazon Highway, from Itaituba in the east to Labrea in the west. The area is about 1,700 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

Conditions can be challenging at best, as hazards along the highway can include impassable mud, feuding and gun-toting loggers, bandits, malarial mosquitoes, rabid vampire bats, disease-ridden water and collapsing bridges.

About 18 percent of the forest in Brazil's Amazon disappeared between 1970 and 2008, according to satellite and other data reviewed by the Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.

Most of the destruction is in the more developed eastern Amazon basin, and Walker said he suspected that a government crackdown on illegal logging was pushing cutters west into the Amazon. He said those suspicions were confirmed during his trip.

"The researchers witnessed fairly sizable logging operations, including sawmills and semi-trucks hauling out sawn wood," spokesman Andy Henion said in a posting on its website detailing the trip.

But they also found signs of anti-logging efforts succeeding, Walker said.

In one case, a village mayor let loggers start building a road. But he said the national government stepped in and halted the project.

"There seems to be an emerging Brazilian will to fulfill the intentions of protected areas," Walker said. "There are still many environmental concerns, and we certainly can't say the battle's won and we can all go home and pat ourselves on the back.

"But one thing they're not doing is giving people a complete license to deforest the Amazon."

WISCONSIN: DNR creates e-mail alert system for wolves

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has created an e-mail system to let people know about wolves in their area so they can protect their pets.

The Marshfield-News Herald reports people can get an e-mail or text message anytime wolves attack hunting dogs or pets. The system has been running for about two weeks.

DNR ecologist Adrian Wydeven says the system isn't intended to scare anyone, just make them aware.

There have been nine confirmed reports of wolves attacking dogs in Wisconsin this year. The DNR says there are about 700 wolves in the state, up 10 percent from 2009.

NEBRASKA: Family, friends say goodbye to soldiers

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – About 300 Nebraska National Guard soldiers are saying goodbye to their families and friends.

A farewell ceremony was held Sunday in Lincoln for the members of the 67th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

Sgt. Jacob Korbel says this will be his second deployment to Iraq, but his first since he became a husband and father. Korbel says he has more to worry about now, so it's harder to say goodbye.

The unit will train at Fort Lewis, Wash., before deploying overseas.

Spc. Cameron Oden says he's eager to get this deployment done because he just got engaged recently. Oden's fiance, Amy Larson, says she doesn't want to see him go.

OHIO STATE: School pushes for more students with passports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio State University wants more of its students to see the world way beyond its Columbus campus and is trying to double the number who hold passports.

In a first step toward that goal, the school this summer is urging all 6,600 members of the incoming fall freshman class to get passports.

The university, one of the nation's largest, also plans to stage panel discussions throughout the year to explain why passports are important.

According to the school's latest estimate, up to 80 percent of Ohio State students don't have a U.S. passport.

University officials say getting one opens doors for study or work overseas. Their message is that the benefits outweigh the initial application cost, which for adults rises from $100 to $135 on Tuesday.

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