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WisCorps Critter Mobile brings roaches (and turtles, and snakes) on the road
Erik Daily 

Justin Holten holds Bessie, a gray rat snake, that is one of the animals the WisCorps Environmental Education Program’s Critter Mobile takes out to groups that are unable to visit the Myrick Park Center.

With a three-inch torso on six spindly legs, prominent horns and emanating a distinctive, disruptive noise, the Madagascar hissing cockroach looks not to be messed with.

But WisCorps naturalist Justin Holten can turn fear into fascination, with once-skittish kids clamoring to touch the oversized insect.

“People are generally scared — they look like they’d be slimy but they’re really not,” Holten says of the wingless cockroaches, which hiss to express dominance, spread alarm or court a mate. “After a few minutes the kids say, ‘Put it on my hands, put in on my shirt, put it on my head.’”

Madagascar hissing cockroaches, found thankfully on the forest floor rather than the kitchen floor, are just a few of the creepy crawlies and agile amphibians that ride to schools, youth organizations and events on the WisCorp CritterMobile, a traveling environmental education tool headquartered at the Myrick Park Center.

In circulation for the past year, the CritterMobile offers one-hour programs, including Precious Prairies, with a lesson on the importance of the conservation of native species and plants; Classify Me, a look at animal classifications; Explore the Food Chain, on predator and prey; and Major Movements, focused on the science behind how and why different animals walk, crawl or fly.

Weather permitting, Holten takes the education outside for additional exploration.

Erik Daily 

Justin Holten holds a Madagascar hissing cockroach which is one of the animals taken out with the CritterMobile display.

Each program comes with an opportunity for kids to interact with the accompanying reptiles, animals and insects, including frogs, toads and salamanders.

Holten brings the cages out draped in a sheet, so one lucky child can do the grand unveiling. Snakes tend to get the best reaction upon reveal, though Foxy the horned box turtle is perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser.

“It’s always a lovely, hands-on experience for kids to see animals they’ve never seen before, and touch them and hold them and interact with them,” Holten said.

Emerson Elementary kindergarten teachers Christy Axness and Amy Joley say the CritterMobile was a hit with their students.

“Every classroom should invite the CritterMobile in for a visit,” Axness said. “The lesson was engaging and developmentally appropriate for our kids.”

“The CritterMobile is an amazing hands-on program to expose children to animals found in this region,” Joley said. “...We can’t wait for the next visit.”

Nature lovers and amphibian aficionados of all ages can explore the wonders of the CritterMobile at the Myrick Park Earth Fair, running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 28, and the Driftless Outdoors Show May 17-18 at the Onalaska Omni Center.

For more information or to schedule a visit from the CritterMobile, call 608-215-4682 or 608-782-2494.


Education
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Regents approve tuition hikes at UW-La Crosse, other campuses

Some University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students will pay higher tuition next school year.

The UW Board of Regents on Friday approved tuition hikes for undergraduate and graduate students across the UW System.

At UW-L, tuition for out-of-state undergrads will climb from $14,968 to $15,118, a 1 percent increase. Out-of-state undergrad tuition was also raised at the Green Bay, Milwaukee, Parkside, Stevens Point and Whitewater campuses.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin residents attending grad school at UW-L will also see a 1 percent increase, from $8,427 to $8,511. The Eau Claire, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Parkside, Stevens Point and Whitewater campuses will see their own increases.

Tuition for UW-L’s in-state undergrads — which has been frozen since 2013 — and out-of-state grad students will not change, except for select grad programs. Those include physical therapy, occupational therapy and the physician assistant program.

The increases will net UW-L more than $100,000 in additional revenue, the school says.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Caledonia/Houston’s Kyle Cavanaugh (left) battles West Salem/Bangor’s Aaron Bahr during the 145-pound championship match at the Bi-State Classic. Bahr takes a 38-4 record into Saturday's Division 2 regional meet at Mauston.


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Study: Transition to renewable energy could create 162,000 jobs in Wisconsin

MADISON — Moving away from fossil fuels could create thousands of jobs, improve public health, and increase overall production by nearly $14 billion in Wisconsin, according to a new study done at the request of La Crosse County.

Despite providing the frac sand used to extract oil and natural gas, Wisconsin has no significant fossil fuel deposits to exploit and generates three quarters of its electricity with coal and natural gas, leaving it with one of the largest “energy deficits” in the country.

Coal is shipped in from other states (97 percent comes from Wyoming, according to data from the Energy Information Administration), natural gas is piped in from around the country, and petroleum products come from around the world.

As of 2016, Wisconsin was spending about $14.4 billion a year on those fossil fuels, according to the study released this week by COWS, a UW-Madison think tank.

By converting the electric power sector to in-state renewables — such as wind and solar — and powering vehicles with that clean electricity (along with some biofuels), the study suggests the state could keep that money within its borders and more than double the number of energy-related jobs.

That would generate nearly $570 million a year in additional tax revenue, which could be used to offset added costs.

The study is hypothetical and doesn’t address technological challenges. Nick Nichols requested it in his role as La Crosse County’s sustainability director.

“This isn’t’ just some nice warm fuzzy thing a tree hugger wants. There’s a potential for tremendous economic impact,” Nichols said.

“The impetus for this whole study was just to figure out whether producing our energy in-state would be beneficial to the economy and people and the environment of Wisconsin,” said David Abel, a UW energy researcher and lead author of the study.

COWS 

Abel

“What we find is that it really is beneficial to all three.”

That’s consistent with the mission of COWS, which promotes environmental sustainability and social fairness.

“There are solutions that don’t actually involve these traditional things we think of as trade-offs between the economy or the people or the environment,” Abel said.

The study comes just as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., released an outline of the “Green New Deal,” a plan for juicing the U.S. economy while eliminating carbon emissions.

Abel said the lack of detail in the plan make it difficult to assess, but Abel said it could be a boon for Wisconsin.

“We may stand the most to gain because of our lack of fossil resources,” he said.

The COWS study estimates the transition to energy independence would push electricity costs up about 10 percent, which could be offset by investments in energy efficiency, creating a 3 percent net reduction in total spending.

On the benefits side, such a switch would create about 162,000 new jobs and increase productivity by creating a healthier population.

The study does not outline how to get there.

Electrifying all vehicles and converting to an all-renewable electric grid will require significant advances in battery storage and other technologies, which Abel said could take decades.

Abel said the point was to focus on the bigger picture, and he notes that states like California and Texas are already running with far more renewable energy.

“We’re not going to get to 100 percent overnight anyway,” Abel said. “We’ve got a lot of progress we can make before there would be any challenges at all.”


Local
La Crosse residents call on Rep. Ron Kind to support Green New Deal
Jennifer Lu / Jennifer Lu, La Crosse Tribune 

Annika Mersmann of Viroqua unfurls a timeline showing how global temperatures have risen since 20,000 BC.

About 10 La Crosse residents, many of them college students, gathered to support the Green New Deal on Friday morning in the lobby of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind’s office in downtown La Crosse.

The deal, which was unveiled Thursday as a resolution in the House of Representative by two Democratic legislators, calls for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy within a decade and the creation of fair and equitable green energy jobs. A price tag has not been attached to the plan.

More than 600 groups across the country have petitioned their legislators in support of the deal.

“From 20,000 B.C. to now, life was always sustainable,” said Annika Mersmann of Viroqua, who organized the local petition. “Every species worked towards contributing to the balance. Now we’re the one going totally off balance, not even making a change when we know what we’re doing.”

Mersmann brought an XKCD cartoon charting global temperatures going back to 20,000 BC, printed across five sheets of 8-inch-by-14-inch paper, which she presented to Loren Kannenberg, Kind’s 3rd District director. The chart shows a gradual overall rise in temperature until the end of the 20th century, when temperatures veer sharply toward a one-degree increase above the global average.

International climate scientists reported in 2018 that global averages have risen by more than one degree and a concerted effort is needed to keep global temperatures below a catastrophic 1.5 degree increase.

“This generation and the past, we’re determining the path of this planet for all the species,” Mersmann said.

“I will carry your message to the congressman,” Kannenberg said, as Kind was in Washington, D.C., this week.

The Green New Deal is a framework that treats clean energy solutions to mitigate climate change as an economic opportunity. The name harkens back to government mobilization during the Great Depression.

The plan would build resilience against climate-related disasters, support sustainable farms and food systems, electrify the transportation sector, and provide universal health care. Exact details have not been worked out.

Unlike its predecessor, the Green New Deal would ensure that groups and communities excluded from the original New Deal, including indigenous communities, people of color, rural communities, women, children, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities, are not left behind, according to its text.

The deal grew from the Sunrise Movement, an organization of young people on a mission to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” It gained momentum after a newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Sunrise supporters for a sit-in in then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, unveiled the Green New Deal on Thursday in Washington.

It stands in stark juxtaposition to President Donald Trump’s stance on energy. During the State of the Union address this week, Trump praised America’s dominance as the world’s top fossil fuel exporter and did not mention climate change, which he calls a hoax.

The next day, NASA and NOAA announced that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, behind 2016, 2015, and 2017. Greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming rose sharply in 2018, by 3.4 percent, reversing a three-year downturn, according to the Rhodium group.

The plan, which is nonbinding, would face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

It leaves out some strategies for reducing greenhouse gases, including a carbon tax and cap-and-trade program, and has also has been critiqued for its ambitious timeline.

“I’m afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in a 10-year time frame,” former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told NPR on “All Things Considered.”

Jennifer Lu / Jennifer Lu, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-L seniors Erin Burke, left, and Marissa Despins petitioned U.S. Rep. Ron Kind to support the Green New Deal. 

Many of those in La Crosse who came out to support the Green New Deal said they they did so because climate change is their present and future.

“We care because in 50 years, we’re still going to be here. We’re the ones that will have to deal with the repercussions,” said Marissa Despins, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse majoring in biology. Despins kept an eye on the clock. Her next class for the day, on global warming, was at 11 a.m.

Erin Burke, also a UW-L senior majoring in biology, spent a summer in Alaska studying spruce bark beetles. She got a firsthand look at how climate change sped up the beetle’s reproductive cycle, allowing it to devastate forests at an unprecedented pace.

And climate change isn’t only something that happens elsewhere, like Alaska or along the coasts. “Even now, with the polar vortex, scientists are starting to link those changes to climate change,” Burke said.

“Because of climate change and our land use, there are way more floods with more water where the water just runs right off,” Despins added.

Avery Van Gaard, who works for Coulee Region Ecoscapes, a sustainable landscaping company, said the plan was not only crucial for averting the worst climate change impacts, but also a way to invest in renewable energy produced locally.

“There’s a whole industry, right?” Van Gaard said. “It’s excellent for the economy, so why wouldn’t you?”

“We have 10 years left to figure this out,” Van Gaard said. “I feel like we’ve got to the point where everyone else isn’t going to do anything about this; I have to do something about this.”