Forward-Looking Measures

May Help Reduce Cow Emissions

The vast agricultural San Joaquin Valley in California is home to 2.5 million dairy cows -- many, apparently, with serious gas.

The valley is ranked with Los Angeles and Houston as one of the three smoggiest spots in the nation. Valley air pollution officials said volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, cause about half its smog problem. Last week they released a report blaming cows for producing most of them.

Dairy industry lobbyists say the findings are based on bad science. They also question regulations that could require dairy farmers to spend millions treating cow manure.

Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of Western United Dairymen, said most cow gas comes from cows chewing and rechewing their food. Building feedlots and mixing new food formulas would be cheaper than cleaning up cow patties.

Marsh cited an experiment in which scientists placed cows in "bovine bubbles" and measured the air quality in front of and behind the animals. "I know it sounds funny," Marsh said, "but 80 percent of the emissions of the cow are coming out of the front end as she's chewing her cud, rather than the back end. I don't know how to say that delicately."

-- Sonya Geis

Hunting Dogs at Risk as Wis.

Takes Steps to Save Gray Wolves

Lose your bear-hunting dog to a wolf, get a check.

When they decided to help endangered species, some green-minded Wisconsin residents did not reckon that pooches would be among the protected. But given the appetite of wolves for hounds, state law allows hunters to collect as much as $2,500 if their dog is killed by a hungry member of the wolf population.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said the payments are one reason hunters have supported the return of gray wolves to the state, where about 400 now prowl. Since 1987, the state program has paid $144,200 to hunters, which "makes the situation much more tolerable if you're a farmer or a hunter."

"In other places," Meyer said, "wolves are shot."

The money comes from a state income tax check-off and fees from special license plates.

Alice Droske paid $25 extra for four tags, only to cancel when she learned of the dog-replacement provision.

"They are hunting on public land and that's the inherent risk you take," said Droske, a wolf advocate and conservationist who lives in Elk Mound. "I'm not going to give to that fund until it gets changed."

-- Peter Slevin

Marine Life Gets Settled

Into Reef's Newest Addition

One of the world's more urbanized underwater reefs acquired a new wing last week.

New Jersey officials towed a century-old ferryboat about eight miles off Cape May, popped a hole in the hull, and watched it sink to the ocean bottom. The ferry took up residence along one of 14 artificial reefs established along the Jersey Shore.

The "reefs" are made of 135 barges, ships and dinghies, and an additional 250 New York City subway cars, all lying in rusting piles along the soft flat sands of the continental shelf. The reefs offer de facto apartments for all matter of aquatic denizens, including sea bass, sharks and lots and lots of lobsters. The reefs also attract hundreds of divers. The subway cars may deteriorate, but what will be left behind is "a whole column of marine life that will be amazing to see," diver Steve Nagiewicz told the Record newspaper. "Fish moved in the day they went down."

-- Michael Powell

Drive-In Movie Theaters

Staging a Return in Texas

The drive-in movie, that icon of yesteryear that allowed families to pile into their cars on a warm summer night and watch the big screen under a wide sky and bright stars, has made a comeback in Texas.

A new double-screen drive-in is scheduled to open this month in the west Texas town of Midland, and plans are being made to open another in Houston early next year. The Central Texas Drive-In opened last month in Killeen, down the road from the huge Fort Hood U.S. Army base. And the three-screen Galaxy Drive-In in Ennis, 20 miles south of Dallas, has been so popular in its first seven months of operation that the owners are adding a fourth screen this summer. According to Jennifer Sherer Janisch of Drive-Ins.com, there are 415 drive-ins nationwide, down from a peak of more than 4,000 in 1958. But 40 are new theaters built since 1990 and in Texas, at least a dozen have either opened, reopened or added screens since 2000.

One of the six investors with a stake in the Central Texas Drive-In, Everett Bryant, said he and his partners opened the theater for nostalgic reasons, but also for modern reasons. "Total privacy, nobody kicking behind your chair or cell phones going off," he told KCEN-TV, the NBC affiliate in Temple.

-- Sylvia Moreno