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4 Creative Law Enforcement Techniques in the National Parks

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BY BRIAN KEVIN

When the Interior Department decided a few months ago to allow loaded, concealed weapons into national parks, heat-packin' groups like the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms hailed the decision as a victory for public safety. They cited, among other things, "the inability of park officials to provide adequate law enforcement services" due to slim budgets and staff.  But our trigger-happy pals might not be giving the Boys in Green enough credit. Where law enforcement is concerned, national park rangers have historically displayed a consistent knack for doing more with less. Check out these four examples.

1. Poachers Do the Walk of Shame

Picture 2.pngBack in the 1880s, poachers roamed Yellowstone like it was their own personal shooting gallery. Because the National Park Service wasn't formed until 1916, a ragtag company of U.S. Cavalrymen served as the park's first rangers. Unfortunately, they lacked the legal authority to punish poachers in any real way other than booting them from the park and temporarily seizing their gear. So in order to give their rule some teeth, soldiers got creative with logistics. After marching ornery hide hunters to Yellowstone's south entrance, rangers let the poachers know they could retrieve their sleep roll, gun, and supplies from the desk at park headquarters . . . seventy-five wilderness miles away at the park's north entrance!

Of course, that wasn't the only time early rangers relied on the technique. They resorted to similar measures when Basque shepherds were caught illegally grazing on park lands. While the hapless sheepherders got kicked out via the park's north gate, their sheep were graciously escorted east.

2. Smoking Out the Squatters

When Congress formally chartered Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, the crown jewel of the Eastern parks wasn't exactly a pristine wilderness — in fact, there were still a few hundred people living in it. While many Appalachian residents had accepted buyouts in the years leading up to the park's formation, others were too poor or too stubborn to relocate. What's more, the hundreds of empty cabins tucked away inside the park lured hordes of Depression-era squatters. Park rangers made a mission of evicting the unwelcome guests, but when the wily mountaineers wouldn't stay ejected, they simply began burning down any abandoned or temporarily vacated cabins. Not entirely without empathy, the park's first superintendent J. Ross Eakin noted that preventing squatters by torching ancestral homesteads tended to raise "considerable ire among residents."

3. Strong-arming the Kolorado Klan

In the mid-1920s, Colorado was a bastion of influence for the Ku Klux Klan-- a state where the governor, the mayor of Denver, and U.S. Senator Rice Means all openly accepted Klan support. After Senator Means made a publicity tour through southwestern Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park in 1926, local Klansmen sought to convince park superintendent Jesse Nusbaum to grab a white sheet and join the club. When he declined, the Klan showed up with plans to hold a torchlight parade in front of one of the park's most recognized Anasazi ruins. The upright Nusbaum told the Klan they weren't wanted in Mesa Verde, and to show that he meant business, visibly armed the small park staff with pick-ax handles and other improvised weapons. The Klansmen got the message and left the park without incident.

4. Taking Out Snowmobiles, Execution-style

a.snowmobile.pngGlacier National Park ranger Art Sedlack was getting pretty fed-up with snowmobilers cutting through the park along a snow-smothered stretch of Montana's Highway 2. He was pretty clear about this point when he apprehended four sledders one night in December of 1974, warning them not to return by the same route unless they wanted a ticket. When he heard the whine of approaching snowmobiles an hour later, Sedlack hopped on his 4x4 and chased down the repeat offenders. Fearing they'd try to bolt, he reached in to yank out the one of the lead vehicle's spark plugs, but when it proved tricky to remove, he opted to improvise. Drawing his park-issued .38 caliber pistol, Sedlack fired point-blank into the snowmobiles' still-cooling engine.  Man 1, machine 0.

The trespassers paid $25 fines, and Sedlack got a stern reprimand, along with the secret admiration of every ranger who's ever wanted to go Scarface on an exhaust-spewing snowmobile. For years, the Montana Wilderness Association even issued a "Sedlack Award" for creativity in defense of public lands.

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11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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