North Texas' Urban Bobcats Are Everywhere, Almost Definitely Won't Eat Your Children

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the Dallas area had a significant bobcat population.
Bobcats almost certainly won't eat your children; humans, even tiny ones, are too large and awful-tasting. Bobcats probably won't eat your dog, unless your dog is a free-ranging tea-cup chihuahua that -- let's be honest -- totally had it coming. They will eat your backyard chickens in a heartbeat, so urban farmers beware.

And that pretty much sums up what the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department knew about urban bobcats circa January 2014.

"Honestly there's some very very basic questions that we're trying to address," says TPWD wildlife biologist Derek Broman. Questions "that even maybe a third-grader might ask." Where do they live? What do they eat? How far do they wander? Could one tackle Tony Romo? (At a couple of dozen pounds probably not, but it's a moot point since Romo would have already crumpled into the fetal position as soon as it slipped past Doug Free.)

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Dallas Broke Its Own Rules to Get Dirt for Its Golf Course. Now, It Wants a Free Pass.

Eric Nicholson
Trinity Watershed Management Director Liz Fernandez (blue hardhat) and her executive staff survey damage to the pond a contractor drained last month.
To understand just how badly City Hall has bungled its stewardship of the section of the Great Trinity Forest sandwiched between the Trinity Forest Golf Course and the Texas Horse Park, you can visit the delicate wetland pond the city illegally let a contractor drain last month for "dust control." From there, you can follow the broad, freshly-blazed dirt road the contractor plowed through a half mile of previously untrammeled forest to where dozens of acres of formerly virgin post-oak savannah have been clear-cut and strip-mined to provide fill for the golf course. You can watch the excavators indifferently scooping sand from an already-gaping pit to feed the lumbering parade of dump trucks shuttling industriously to and from the golf course, and you can turn around and be confronted by the remnants of several hundred mature trees, which have been mulched and piled into towering heaps that bear a resemblance, possibly imagined, to an extended middle finger.

Of you can just talk to Ben Sandifer.

Sandifer, a genial, middle-aged accountant, is perhaps the city's most tireless advocate of the Great Trinity Forest. Disarmingly tall and, when he's not at work, typically clad in Carhart overalls, he has spent years obsessively exploring Dallas' wilderness, chronicling his adventures on the Dallas Trinity Trails blog. His excursions have made him an ardent preservationist, but he is always careful to stay behind the scenes, letting fellow Trinity advocates thrust themselves into the public eye when disputes with the city arise .

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The Lake Whitney House Local Media Is Obsessed With May Be Set on Fire

Check out Channel 11's report on the doomed house.

If you watched the local news at all over the last week, you must have seen the breathless, helicopter-aided reports of the $700,000 luxury home falling bit by bit down a 75-foot cliff into Lake Whitney.

According to those news reports, the home's Florida-based owners first reported a fault line in the limestone cliff the home sits on in February and were forced to clear out and abandon the home because of safety concerns.

Now, the house is going to be demolished, either by knocking it over or burning the sucker down.

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It's Not Illegal In Texas To Pick Bluebonnets, and Your Whole Life Is A Lie

MVX on Flickr
DO NOT PICK. Or maybe do?
Everyone in Texas, transplant or not, has been told that if you pick the bluebonnets that decorate the landscape across Texas in the spring, a state trooper will personally kick your ass, because you Don't Mess With Texas and its dainty blue flora. Maybe your mom told you this oft-repeated rule, or that asshole who used to bully you in second grade. No matter who it was, that person is a dirty liar.

The antique that is the Texas Department of Public Safety's website confirms that, contrary to popular belief, there is no state law that actually bans the picking of bluebonnets or other Texas wildflowers. As long as you're not actively trespassing on someone's property to pick bluebonnets, you should be good.

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Texas Is Mulling a Ban on Pouring Gasoline into Rattlesnake Burrows

At some unknown point in the not-too-distant past, after the advent of the internal combustion engine, human beings discovered that pouring volatile chemicals into underground burrows made it much, much easier to hunt rattlesnakes and other critters.

The practice, aptly called "gassing," caught on and has been in use in Texas ever since.

"What people do is take gasoline or kerosene or other noxious substance and pour enough of it down into an animal burrow to create a vapor that forces them out," said Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman Mike Cox. "That's the main idea: it messes up the atmosphere enough inside the burrow to force them to come out."

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SMU Will Deploy Seismic Monitors Around Azle to Learn Source of Earthquake Swarms

The shaking around Azle and Reno, which I will hereafter refer to as "San Andreas Minor," has attracted the attention of the U.S. Geological Survey precisely because the area has almost no record of seismic activity. A few studies, including one recently from SMU, point to correlation between the epicenter of the earthquake swarms and the locations of underground injection wells for fracking wastewater.

However, there isn't enough granular, on-site seismic data to draw hard conclusions yet. It's thought that the injection alters the bedrock stresses on faulting in this area, inducing slippages that produce quakes like the magnitude 3.6 detected in near Azle just a few days ago. The USGS says this is entirely possible, but to arrive at that degree of certainty, it needs more data, which is why it just lent SMU four seismic monitors to be positioned in private homes, public buildings and schools in the area.

Another entity with an intimidating acronym, Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL), will provide some 15 sensors to the effort. "We are first going to focus in on where the earthquakes have been occurring -- about a five- to six-mile area near Reno and Azle," said Heather DeShon, SMU associate professor of geophysics. "How long the monitors remain depends on continued seismicity. We're thinking a few months."

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SMU Researchers Suggest Link Between North Texas Earthquakes and Fracking Wells -- Again

A team of researchers at SMU has reached a conclusion that may seem obvious to those who have felt the 20-plus earthquakes that rattled North Texas last month: The recent bursts of seismic activity could be linked to fracking.

The researchers, led by recent SMU grad Ashley Justinic, took a close look at the cluster of quakes in and around Cleburne in 2009 and 2010. The data offer no definitive proof that they were tied to gas drilling, but suggest that they may have something to do with the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground.

"Because there were no known previous earthquakes, and the located events were close to the two injection wells and near the injection depth, the possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection," Justinic and her coauthors write in their report.

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Dallas Arboretum Children's Garden's Former Manager: "Everything Over There Is a Clusterfuck"

Dallas Arboretum
When it opened last month, the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden received mostly glowing reviews, and understandably so. It's hard not to be at least a little awed by a $62 million science playground that packs more than 150 interactive exhibits into eight prime acres at the Dallas Arboretum.

For Melissa Wright, the woman hired to run the operation, the magic wore off fast. "There's nothing good to say," she told Unfair Park on Tuesday afternoon, describing the garden as a "debacle." Then, she settled on a choicer phrase. "It is a clusterfuck, honestly. Everything over there is a clusterfuck."

Wright, if you haven't already guessed, no longer works at the arboretum. She quit in frustration after two months on the job with plans to reopen The Lab, the quirky, free-wheeling kids' science space she ran for three years in East Dallas. She has a tough time summing up her complaints, which are voluminous, but she gave it a shot.

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East Texas Researcher Who "Proved" Bigfoot's Existence Says Her Website Was Hacked

A closeup of sasquatch's face, from Ketchum's part of Ketchum's "definitive video and DNA evidence" of Bigfoot.
Melba Ketchum, the veterinarian-turned-fulltime Bigfoot crusader from Nacogdoches has been riding high this month. First, she and her team released "definitive video and DNA evidence" of the creature's existence and its kinship with human beings. Then, online animal nomenclature database Zoobank accepted her proposal to give sasquatch the scientific name of Homo sapiens cognatus -- a "natural choice," seeing as they're the only "living proven hominin besides us."

Ketchum sensed that victory was just over the horizon. "We are slowly winning the battle with our massive amount of genetic data!," she tweeted. "Sasquatch is real and any open minded scientist is going to know."

The skeptics must have sensed this, too, since Ketchum discovered that the website for Denovo, the scientific journal she either created or purchased after others refused to publish her findings, had been hacked.

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The Dallas Safari Club Will Save the Endangered Black Rhino by Auctioning Off the Chance to Shoot One

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The black rhino is teetering on the edge of extinction, and it has been for some time. Their numbers have dropped precipitously over the past several decades, dwindling from several hundred thousand a century ago to a couple thousand a decade ago, partly from habitat loss but mostly from poachers. Rhino horns fetch a premium on the black market, typically from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine who believe they can cure a wide array of ailments, from snakebites to devil possession. Their numbers have recovered slightly in recent years -- there are now 5,055 according to the nonprofit Save the Rhino -- but the pressure is unrelenting.

The Dallas Safari Club is on a mission to save the black rhino, and it plans to do so in the most counterintuitive way possible: by offering up the chance to shoot one of them dead.

It's not every day that hunters get to open fire on an endangered species, but the DSC got a special permit from the government of Namibia, and a green light from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to hunt one of that country's 1,800 remaining black rhinos. The club will auction it off at its big annual convention in January.

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