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UW President Seidel Says UW Is Entering ‘Exciting Time’

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are partnering to help improve the state’s economy, UW President Ed Seidel said earlier this week.

Seidel, speaking in Riverton on Monday during the first of the university’s presentations on “The World Needs More Cowboys — And So Does Wyoming,” said by working together, the university and the state’s colleges can promote entrepreneurship.

“We are working with the community colleges to build the state’s economy,” he said. “We are building partnerships with the community colleges and aligning all forms of higher education. We are promoting entrepreneurship and statewide cooperation,”

Seidel cited the efforts of Central Wyoming College and its president, Brad Tyndall, to work with the university.

CWC hosted the event at the InterTribal Center on the campus.

Several current and former students spoke about the ease with which they could complete their first two years of college at CWC and transition smoothly to the UW. 

Seidel also pointed to the new School of Computing that is starting at UW that will also involve the community colleges. 

Meanwhile, he said COVID continues to be a problem at the university.

“We are prepared to do what is necessary,” he said.

He recalled some of the problems during last year’s school year with the university being open and closed.  He was proud of the fact that the UW was able to have an “in-person” graduation.  

“It meant a lot to everybody,” he said. 

Seidel also said he was happy to be the new president of UW, a position he was appointed to in March 2020. 

“I had waited until I was 63 years old to finally get the job I wanted where I wanted,” he said.

He added, however, that being greeted by a COVID pandemic and a $50 million budget shortfall were challenges. 

He invited everyone to come visit the campus to see what all is happening.  “It is a very exciting time,” he concluded.

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University Of Wyoming Will Have Mask Mandate Until Sept. 20

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming will require the use of facemasks indoors until at least Sept. 20, its board of trustees decided Wednesday.

The mask requirement is part of a COVID management plan approved by trustees that also encourages and incentivizes COVID vaccinations, requires students and employees to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry to the university, implements a mandatory education seminar on the virus, and expands the current weekly sample testing program to both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and students — with 3% of the population to be tested weekly. The plan allows for changes and adjustments in rules as circumstances change.

The mask mandate won’t apply to people alone in their offices and private spaces, and there are medical exceptions.

The board also gave UW President Ed Seidel some discretion to lift the mask requirement in certain circumstances. At its Sept. 15 meeting, the board will revisit the requirement by considering data including case numbers, testing prevalence and vaccine uptake.

“Our hope is that the indoor mask requirement will only be necessary for the start of the fall semester,” Seidel said. “We will monitor the data closely between now and when the board revisits the issue at its September meeting.”

Details about the requirements for the educational seminar and one-time testing of all students at the start of the semester will be shared in coming days.

The current fall semester plan is in line with the board’s March 26 vote to fully reopen the university “consistent with the state and federal governments regarding COVID-19.” The fall semester will begin Aug. 23 with face-to-face classes at full capacity, along with face-to-face student engagement programs and in-person athletics experiences.

“We said in March that unless there’s a dramatic, unexpected development, such as an outbreak of some new dangerous COVID variant that is resistant to vaccines, we’d be back fully in person this fall. We are fulfilling that commitment, which has the support of the vast majority of our students and employees,” Seidel said. “At the same time, we are responding to the uptick in cases in Albany County and the state, as well as the highly transmissible Delta variant, to help assure that we can stay in person through the semester and the academic year.

“And, perhaps most importantly, we are doing just about everything we can, short of a mandate, to encourage and incentivize our employees and students to be vaccinated, to protect their individual health and that of the broader community,” he continued.

As of Monday, there are eight active cases of the virus reported by UW’s COVID-19 tracker: five students living off-campus and three employees.

The total number of confirmed COVID cases among UW students and employees since the pandemic began is 2,276. The positivity rate among tests conducted under UW’s random-sample program in the past week is 1.39%.

The Wyoming Department of Health has placed Albany County in the “moderate- to high-transmission levels” category, for which the state health officer recommends mask use for everyone indoors.

At this stage, the university continues to highly encourage but not mandate the COVID vaccine for faculty, staff and students, in concert with a directive from Gov. Mark Gordon.

“The vaccines are proven to be highly safe and effective in preventing infection and serious illness, even for the easily transmissible Delta variant,” Seidel said. “It remains our sincere hope that all of our employees and students who are medically able will choose to be vaccinated. We intend to provide our students and employees with every opportunity to receive the vaccine, and to provide accurate information to help everyone make the best decisions for themselves.”

UW requires all faculty, staff and students who are vaccinated to report their vaccinations to allow the university to track overall vaccination numbers. Additionally, those who report vaccinations become eligible for weekly prize drawings.

As of Monday, 2,876 individual students had reported receiving at least one dose of a COVID vaccine on the Student Health Service portal, up from 2,721 on Aug. 2, and up from the 1,665 reporting before the incentive program was announced July 9.

Also as of Monday, 2,121 of UW’s 2,880 benefited employees, 73.6%, have reported receiving at least one dose of the vaccines. Adding in non-benefited employees, some of whom are students, 3,252 of UW’s 5,851 total employees, 55.5%, have reported receiving at least one dose.

“Quite frankly, the current percentages are much lower than we would like to see, but we are optimistic that they will continue to increase,” Seidel said. “Our student incentive program, in particular, offers some excellent extra motivation to report vaccinations. And we’ll be looking at ways to augment the incentives for our community. The single most important thing one can do to protect one’s health, and to help us all pull out of this pandemic, is to get vaccinated.”

UW also is participating in an Albany County vaccination incentive program that will launch soon and be open to all employees and students.

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UW President Seidel Testifies Before U.S. Senate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel touted the university’s efforts to drive energy innovation and economic development during a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Seidel spoke to and answered questions from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is the committee’s ranking member.

“Universities across the nation are ready to become even stronger engines for science and innovation,” Seidel said during his testimony. “However, deeper partnerships with academia and industry are still needed.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, with an annual budget of over $7 billion, is the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, and the lead federal agency supporting research for energy production and security.

Seidel also addressed the energy research occurring at the UW’s School of Energy Resources as well as plans for a new School of Computing, a Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, in collaboration with Wyoming’s community colleges.

These efforts, focused on driving innovation and economic development, reflect the commitment and contributions that rural states such as Wyoming can make to the nation, he said.

“Great talent resides everywhere,” Seidel said, advocating that “rural areas must be embraced” in research funding opportunities because of their unique strengths.

Seidel encouraged development of a comprehensive funding plan that links science, education and innovation for growing the economy of the U.S. and competing internationally with countries that are investing more.

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Justice Gorsuch To Speak At UW In September

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will speak at the University of Wyoming in September, the university announced this week.

Gorsuch will discuss “Constitution Day Reflections: Equal Justice for All” in a fireside chat format with Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Lynne Boomgaarden.

The free speech will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 in the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts concert hall. Tickets will be required and can be reserved by the public starting Aug. 30 at the UW Performing Box Office online or by calling 307-766-6666.

All attendees must be 16 or older and show a photo ID to enter.

Gorsuch was to speak on the UW campus last September, but his appearance was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

Gorsuch was born in Denver and received a B.A. degree from Columbia University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School and a PhD from Oxford University.

He served as a law clerk to Judge David Sentelle, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and as a law clerk to Justice Byron White and Justice Anthony Kennedy, of the Supreme Court of the United States.

From 1995 to 2005, he was in private practice and, from 2005 to 2006, he was principal deputy associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in 2006.

Gorsuch served on the Standing Committee on Rules for Practice and Procedure of the U.S. Judicial Conference, and as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Rules of Appellate Procedure. He taught at the University of Colorado Law School.

President Donald Trump nominated him as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and he took his seat April 10, 2017.

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University of Wyoming Cutting 75 Positions, Eliminating Multiple Programs

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming has cut at least 75 positions and will eliminate multiple programs to deal with projected budget cuts, officials announced Tuesday.

A proposal from UW President Ed Seidel to the university’s Board of Trustees would reconfigure UW’s colleges, discontinue or reorganize some academic programs and launch a School of Computing, a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and a Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative, among other changes.

“The world, Wyoming and higher education are in the midst of major changes; UW must respond,” Seidel said. “In order to better serve our students and our state amid a significant decline in state funding, we must restructure to put UW on a sustainable path for the future. The goals of this plan are to enhance the student experience and train them for success; become a better engine for innovation and economic development; and develop new revenue streams.”  

The proposed changes would reduce spending by more than $13 million annually while allowing the university to better support its students and generate new revenue streams, the announcement said.

The restructuring and budget cuts would lead to the elimination of as many as 75 faculty and staff positions at the university, including up to 10 department heads.

Programs that are not discontinued or reorganized, including those at at UW-Casper, would see their budgets reduced by 3%.

The plan calls for changing the College of Engineering and Applied Science to the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and College of Arts and Sciences into College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.

The departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering would be removed from the College of Engineering and continue to be offered under other programs.

Likewise, the Department of Chemical Engineering would be discontinued, but its degrees would be maintained under a reorganized unit that would include the current Department of Chemistry. 

From the current College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Geology and Geophysics would be reduced in size and would join the Department of Petroleum Engineering in a new unit to include geological sciences that would preserve geological, geophysics and geosciences degrees.

From the current College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics would be consolidated with the Department of Economics in the College of Business. The program in agricultural communications would move to the Department of Communication and Journalism and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences would be reduced, with the nutrition program moving to the College of Health Sciences and the Early Care and Education Center moving to the College of Education. 

In the current College of Arts and Sciences, the Creative Writing Program would be consolidated into the Department of English; the Department of Visual and Literary Arts would be renamed the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, incorporating the existing departments of Music, and Theatre and Dance. The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies would be reduced. And the American Studies Program would move into the School of Gender, Culture and Social Justice, with a number of low-enrollment degree programs in that school combined into a single degree with various concentrations.

The School of Counseling, Leadership and Design would be discontinued in the College of Education, and the college would be reorganized.

Students currently enrolled in programs to be discontinued would be able to complete their degrees. A number of low-enrollment degree programs have been identified for discontinuation as well.

“It is never easy to restructure or eliminate academic programs and positions” said Kevin Carman, the university’s executive vice president. “The faculty positions being considered for elimination are filled by real people who work hard for this university, and the magnitude of what we are proposing is, as far as we can tell, unprecedented in the university’s modern history. But, the situation we face as a university, with a 25% drop in state funding in recent years and a need to respond to changing times, necessitates a reconsideration of the way we’re structured and what we offer. Our proposal will now go through the collaborative review process directed by university regulation, and we will consider all input in an effort to assure the best possible outcomes.”  

The new School of Computing and campuswide Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative are aimed squarely at training students in areas important for advancing key markets for the future economy of Wyoming.

The proposed School of Computing is envisioned to be a statewide asset led by the university with statewide and national impacts and global reach. It would provide the organizational infrastructure and emphasis to accelerate the growth and impact of computing, artificial intelligence and data science at UW across research, teaching, entrepreneurship and engagement.

The school would collaborate with all academic departments and UW Libraries, student success programs and discovery programs. 

Earlier this year, the university reduced its spending by $42.3 million through steps including the elimination of about 80 unfilled positions, centralizing budget, facility and operational activities, a utility cost savings initiative and the one-time use of reserve funds.  

“We are committed to making UW a best-in-class, 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots, and that means taking bold steps even during a time of financial distress,” Seidel said. “We look forward to our discussions with the Board of Trustees and our many constituents to refine our plans to serve the best interests of our students and the people of Wyoming.”

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Colorado Rockies Hosting Annual University of Wyoming Night In July

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Baseball-starved Wyoming fans will have a reason to celebrate next month as the Colorado Rockies hosts one of its most popular themed events — the University of Wyoming night.

Baseball may have been eliminated at the UW in 1996, but the Cowboy fans can still see the school’s name linked with America’s favorite pastime during the UW-themed night on July 17, when the Rockies will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at 6:10 p.m. at Rockies Stadium in Denver.

Those who purchase a ticket package will receive a Wyoming Cowboys-themed Rockies hat. The baseball team will also donate $2 from every ticket sale to the Wyoming Alumni Association and Cowboy Joe Club.

Baseball fans in Wyoming lost their college team to cheer for in 1996, when budget cuts forced the elimination of the program. The team had been an NCAA Division I team with the Western Athletic Conference since 1962. Prior to that, the team appeared once, in 1956, at the College World Series.

Cowboy fans traveling to Denver for the game are encouraged to wear their best brown and gold gear to support their favorite university. Tickets are on sale now, with prices as low as $18.

This is an annual event organized between the Rockies and the university, although it was canceled last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rockies Stadium will return to hosting full capacity crowds of 50,000 beginning Monday. All tickets will now be digital.

However, due to coronavirus health guidelines, players can’t sign autographs or toss baseballs into the crowd.

Masks aren’t required to enter the stadium, but are encouraged for those who aren’t fully vaccinated.

All concession, ticket and retail transactions are cashless due to coronavirus guidelines, although the stadium staff have placed reverse ATMs throughout the venue to allow people to put money back onto their debit cards.

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UW Professor Researching Animals’ Adaptability to Climate Change

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On climate change and cattle

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor is part of an effort to determine how animals change their habitats to deal with changing weather conditions.

Michael Dillon, an associate professor in the zoology and physiology department, was part of a research group that found animals’ ability to adapt to changing conditions likely depends on how well they modify their habitats, such as nests and burrows.

Dillon co-authored a paper, titled “Extended Phenotypes: Buffers or Amplifiers of Climate Change?,” that was published Tuesday in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, which publishes commissioned, peer-reviewed articles in all areas of ecology and evolutionary science.

The lead author of the paper is Arthur Woods, a biological sciences professor at the University of Montana. Other contributors to the paper were from the University of Tours in France and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The researchers found that birds build nests to keep eggs and baby nestlings warm during cool weather, but also make adjustments in nest insulation in such a way the little ones can keep cool in very hot conditions.

Mammals, such as rabbits or groundhogs, sleep or hibernate in underground burrows that provide stable, moderate temperatures and avoid above-ground conditions that often are far more extreme than inside the burrow.

The study investigated extended phenotypes, modifications that organisms such as birds, insects and mammals make to their habitats.

“An extended phenotype can range from simply a hole in the ground occupied by an animal to leaves rolled into cavities by insects, to nests of all shapes and sizes built by birds and mammals, to termite mounds and bee colonies,” Dillon said.

These modifications are important because they change the conditions the organism is living in, which is called a “microclimate.”

Because extended phenotypes are constructed structures, they often are modified in response to local climate variation and, potentially, in response to changing conditions. This process is called plasticity of the extended phenotype.

“One example might be a bird nest that is well insulated to protect eggs or young birds from cold. As climates warm, if the bird does not adjust insulation in the nest, it may, in fact, cause the young to overheat,” Dillon said. 

In another example, termites build mounds that capture wind and solar energy to drive airflow through the colony, which stabilizes temperature, relative humidity and oxygen levels.

Microclimates inside the dwelling of an animal or insect typically differ substantially from the climate outside, which means that the climate in an area may provide little information about what animals actually experience in their microhabitats.

As an analogy, although a weather station might tell the public that the temperature in Laramie is 90 degrees, simply by moving from the south to the north side of a building, one can experience microclimates that are strikingly different and often not captured by the weather data, Dillon said.

The same is true of animals of many different sizes.

For example, a moose can move from an open sagebrush landscape to a shaded river corridor to cool off, a snake can move from its hole to a sunny rock to warm up and an insect shuttling between the top and bottom of a leaf can experience temperature differences of more than 20 degrees.

“So, animals use microclimates, both by simply moving but also by building structures, such as nests, burrows, mounds and mines,” Dillon said.

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UW All Aboard on Juneteenth; Hopes Wyoming Will Make It A State Holiday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Officials from the University of Wyoming joined Gov. Mark Gordon in celebrating President Joe Biden’s recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday this week.

UW president Ed Seidel and Jeff Marsh, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, noted that Gordon would have the full support of the university in his endeavor to formalize Juneteenth as a state holiday.

“Wyoming has recognized the Juneteenth holiday since 2003, when the Legislature passed a bill establishing the holiday on the third Saturday of the month,” Seidel and Marsh said. “The fact that we now have an officially recognized federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery, one of the darkest chapters in our great nation’s history, is something to celebrate.”

Juneteenth commemorates the date in 1865 when all enslaved African-Americans learned they were freed by former President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier.

While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War two years later.

Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach all enslaved black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.

“The events of the last year across our nation show we have much work still to do,” Seidel and Marsh said. “We hope that everyone will take the time to reflect on the pain and progress that has brought us to this meaningful step, supported by our federal delegation, unanimously by the U.S. Senate and overwhelmingly by the U.S. House, and join us in celebrating this momentous progress!”

However, while this was a great step forward in Seidel and Marsh’s opinions, they agreed more could be done for equality and said they are dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all at the university.

“Freedom is always a cause for celebration and this is a momentous day in our nation’s history. I encourage people to observe this commemoration of the full enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which embodies the values of all Americans,” Gordon said on Thursday in signing a proclamation in support of the new federal holiday.

The legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate and by a 415 – 14 vote in the House.

It’s been 35 years since the last federal holiday was created. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated federally in 1986.

Many Cowboy State Daily readers were none too pleased to read the news of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, with some commenting that Biden was wasting his time with small issues and others questioning whether other holidays, such as Cinco de Mayo, should be federal holidays.

“Doubtful many Americans in Wyoming had slaves. Time to move on,” John Fox wrote.

“We don’t need it, its just pandering to the left. We are better than this,” Michael Jones said.

“So does this mean they can celebrate by burning down a city the whole month of June! That’s how they celebrate with victories these day’s. Remember white people were slaves too,” Linda Todd wrote.

“For crying out loud , dont we have enough holidays (or as I call them , excuses for people not to go to work) ?” W.D. Coe wrote.

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UW Professor: Global Warming Is Causing Larger Wildfires In Rocky Mountains

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor has co-authored a new research paper stating that global warming is contributing to larger wildfires in the Rocky Mountain region.

“Global warming is causing larger fires in Rocky Mountain forests than have burned for thousands of years,” said Bryan Shuman, a professor in the UW Department of Geology and Geophysics. “The last time anything similar may have occurred was during a warm portion of the medieval era.”

Shuman was the main co-author of a paper, titled “Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forests Now Burning More Than Any Time in Recent Millennia,” that was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.

Shuman and his fellow researchers found that by November 2020, wildfires in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado were responsible for 72% of the total area burned in high-elevation subalpine forests since 1984.

In 2020, Colorado saw three of its largest wildfires on record.

The 2020 fire season saw distinctly higher rates of burning than in the last 2,000 years. The researchers used charcoal found in lake sediment records to assemble the fire history across the Rocky Mountains.

They discovered that since 2000, wildfires are burning nearly twice as much area, on average, compared to the last 2,000 years.

Over that 2,000-year period, fires in high-elevation, subalpine forests historically burned, on average, once every 230 years. In the 21st century, those fires now occur, on average, every 117 years.

Philip Higuera, a professor of fire ecology in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana, was the paper’s lead author. Kyra Wolf, a Ph.D. candidate in paleoecology and forest ecology at the University of Montana, also contributed to the paper.

Higuera and Shuman conceived and designed the study, while Higuera and Wolf analyzed the data to understand how current fire activity compared to wildfires of the past.

“As the 2020 fire season unfolded, we realized we already had a well-defined understanding of the fire history of many of the places burning, based on over 20 lake sediment records our teams had collected over the past 15 years,” Higuera says. “When the smoke settled, we thought ‘Wow, we may have witnessed something truly unprecedented here.’ So, we combined the existing records for the first time and compared them to recent fire activity. To our surprise, 2020 indeed pushed fire activity outside the range of variability these forests have experienced over at least the past two millennia.”

In the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, 840,000 acres have burned between 1984 and 2019. Another 660,000 acres burned in 2020.

Approximately 1.1 million acres burned in the past decade in the Colorado-Wyoming study area, even though only 400,000 acres, less than half as much, burned in the previous 25 years.

“The results indicate that, if fires continue to burn as often as they do now, every forest in the region could be burned by the beginning of the next century,” Shuman said. “In the past, it would have taken 200 to 300 years, if not longer, for fires to affect that much area.”

Subalpine forests are becoming less resilient and more susceptible to fires because the climate is warming, the researchers showed. Because humidity was extremely low, temperatures were high and storm events produced high winds, forest management had little impact on the 2020 fires.

The fires burned designated wilderness and national parks with limited fuel management, heavily managed areas with substantial timber removal and intact forest and areas with extensive beetle kill.

The extreme climate completely overrode all types of forest management, Shuman said.

“Snowfall in our high-elevation forests is lower now than in past decades, and summers are hotter. The changes convert trees into dry fuel, primed and ready to burn,” Shuman said. “With less snow now, the fire season lasts longer than before. When areas burn, the fires are bigger. They can burn longer. 

Continual warming will reinforce newly emerging fire activity in these high-elevation forests, with significant implications for ecosystems and society, according to the paper.

“It may sound dire, but it’s critical to remember that we have ample opportunities to limit or reverse climate warming, while still working to adapt to the increasing fire activity expected in upcoming decades,” Higuera said.

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Severe Wildfires in Wyoming Last Year Killed Massive Numbers of Birds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor and some fellow researchers have discovered that extensive and severe wildfires and the smoke they generated led to mass deaths of various types of birds last summer.

The wildfires during the 2020 fire season led to bird deaths in 12 Western, according to the university. At the same time, snowstorms in the late summer also may have affected bird migration by cutting off the birds’ food supply and prompting migration before the birds were physiologically ready to make the trip.

Di Yang, an assistant professor in the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, headed a research group that investigated the environmental causes of massive bird die-offs by combining sociological data with observations of citizen scientists.

“Migratory die-off events in the western U.S. are significantly related to smoke and toxic gases released from wildfires, combining with the heavy snowstorms in some areas (as determined) by using a series of satellite images,” Yang said. “More importantly, citizens played an important role in observing this massive die-off event and provided invaluable data to iNaturalist, which is a citizen science platform.”

Yang is lead author of the research paper “Unprecedented Migratory Bird Die-Off: A Citizen-Based Analysis on the Spatiotemporal Patterns of Mass Mortality Events in the Western United States,” that was published in the April issue of GeoHealth. Other contributors to the paper were from Colorado State University, the University of Georgia, Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study investigated bird migration and survival and how they were influenced by global climate change, natural disasters and ecological disturbance. The study covered Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The American robin, barn swallows, flycatchers, mountain bluebirds and Wilson’s warblers were the bird species hit the hardest by the die-offs, based on the death numbers reported.

In Wyoming, during August and September, more birds were found in urban and forested areas compared with other types of lands. The researchers also found that the more cropland cover there was in an area, the more dead birds were found.

Overall, the study’s findings suggested that air quality and distance to wildfires were two major factors that caused the high bird mortality rates. Fewer bird deaths occurred closer to the wildfires, except during mid-August to mid-September in California.

Birds have evolved to cope with fires and adjust migration pathways, Yang said. However, due to the lack of forest management practices, such as prescribed burning and removing some standing dead trees, the wildfires burned far hotter and grew much larger than usual, which made it difficult for the migratory birds to adjust.

“The toxic gases that were released from the smoke made an impact on the respiratory systems of migratory birds, and birds are very sensitive to the toxic gases during their exhausting long flights,” Yang explained.

During the August and September 2020 study period, numerous dead birds were found by citizen scientists and were reported on the citizen science platform.

The use of citizen scientists improved the accuracy of the study because their use significantly expanded the sample set Yang said. As a result, she and her research team were able to build a national-level model by adapting a quality-control framework to the citizen science data.

The findings highlighted the impact of extreme weather and natural disasters on bird biology, survival and migration, which can provide significant insights into bird biodiversity, conservation and ecosystem stability.

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