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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the Mar 01, 2012 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Flora & Fauna     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0

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Black bears named "Blue," pink Chinese dust

News: Mar 01, 2012
by Betsy Marston

MONTANA

A 200-pound black bear with a flair for home decorating denned this winter in the crawlspace beneath a family cabin at Georgetown Lake, west of Butte, Mont. Once dug in, the bear noticed the stairs and a trap door above it, reports the Billings Gazette, and proceeded to break open the door and wander into the cabin, only to discover all the little things that make hibernation more enjoyable -- "decorative pillows, comforters and blankets to keep warm." Family members who visited the cabin on New Year's Day realized the place had been ransacked, but were puzzled because nothing was missing except bedding, including designer sheets. When they peered down into the crawlspace, however, they saw "a pair of eyes staring back." Everyone, including the game warden, decided that the bear -- dubbed "Blue" by a thrilled 5-year-old -- could sleep right where it was until spring.

THE WORLD

Poor Beijing, suffering as it does from horrendous storms of swirling pink dust that frequently darken the sky and cause residents to wheeze and cough. But Californians might temper their compassion with a bit of gratitude if they happened to catch a recent New York Times story about the surprising "upside" of China's air pollution. For in just a week or so, the high-altitude jet stream can blow Beijing's fierce dust clouds thousands of miles to California, and once there, the polluted clouds "seed" snowflakes that blanket the state's Sierra Nevada Range. "Snowflakes cannot fall out of a cloud unless there is a floating seed husk, or piece of pollen, speck of dust or other aerosol that they can cling to and grow around," explain researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California at San Diego. So the more dust in the air, researchers say, the more ice crystals, and those ice crystals grow into snowflakes as they drop from the sky. Because the mountains of Northern California have been suffering from dry winters, it's good news for the region that dust from China is bulking up the snowstorms that will eventually provide drinking water for 25 million people. Snowmelt from the mountains also provides up to 15 percent of the state's hydropower as well as water for wildlife, ranches and farming operations. Unfortunately, there's still a downside: Besides causing serious harm to the health of millions of people in China, the country's dust storms are also bad news for some Americans: "Research suggests that as much as one-third of the airborne lead in the San Francisco Bay Area wafted over from China."

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