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Briefs: Cut the Fat, Water Weight

Pumas of the Santa Cruz Mountains are in the news again—this time on a national scale.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently published the “2014 Wastebook,” his annual list of wasteful government spending. Fourth on the list was a UCSC study on the hunting behavior of mountain lions. Coburn believes the National Science Foundation could have invested its money more wisely, writing that, “federal research agencies should better prioritize how tax dollars are directed to ensure adequate support for more pressing scientific endeavors.” The study was targeted for one unique aspect: it entailed training three captive mountain lions to walk on a treadmill.

The image of mountain lions on exercise equipment may sound peculiar, but Terrie Williams, the study’s principal investigator, says its findings will inform conservationists on how best to manage the species, which is good for everyone.

“My mission is to reduce the burden of environmental debt that will have to be paid off by our children and grandchildren,” wrote the UCSC professor of animal physiology, in a response via the Los Angeles Times.

Williams says her team needed to train the large cats to walk on treadmills so they could calibrate the GPS-tracking collars used to measure the energetic cost of their movements. Ultimately, the collars “will help save human lives, our pets, and livestock, as well as the large predatory mammals that represent the ‘top-of-the-food chain’ glue holding our ecosystems together. It is a problem that’s all too familiar in densely populated California, where human-wildlife encounters have increased,” she says.

Sen. Coburn is well known for scrutinizing government-funded research projects that sound funny to him. Just last year, the self-proclaimed “global warming denier” chastised the NSF for funding another team of researchers who placed shrimp on tiny treadmills, a study with wide-ranging implications for water quality and management. BB

WATER WEIGHT

In the November elections, some of the more important developments locally were in the water races.

In the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) race, incumbent Larry Prather put together a slate that catapulted Eric Hammer (who came in first) and Gene Ratcliffe to victory with two of three open seats, but couldn’t save his own reputation, which may have been tarnished by a June grand jury report into district mismanagement and poor financial oversight.

In Lompico, pro-merge candidates John Schneider and Merrie Schaller won the two open seats, which should allow the troubled district to continue down a path to combining with SLVWD.

And in Soquel Creek Water District race, politicos were watching incumbents Rick Meyer and Bruce Jaffe. Both supporters of strict conservation, the two won seats over a slate put together to run against them by politicians and business owners worried about the economic and community impacts of their policies. As of deadline, the third seat is too close to call. JP

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